Range and Habitat
Tarpon preer tropical and subtropical waters andare most common rom Virginia to central Brazil,throughout the Caribbean Sea and the Gul oMexico, and in tropical regions o Arica in theeastern Atlantic. Because tarpon are sensitive tocold water, their range is generally limited totemperate climates. However, they have been oundo the coast o Ireland and reported as ar north asNova Scotia. In Florida, they are ound in waterdepths ranging rom less than 3 eet to more than80 eet.Tarpon thrive in a variety o habitats. Adults arebelieved to move oshore to marine waters tospawn, and the larvae gradually make their wayback inshore to marshes and mangrove habitats inestuaries. Adults requent a range o habitats, romoshore and nearshore coastal waters to stagnantreshwater pools o riverine habitats. They canoten be seen patrolling the coral rees and fats othe Florida Keys. In Costa Rica, Guatemala andNicaragua, tarpon are requently caught inreshwater lakes and rivers miles rom the coast.Scientists believe the western Atlantic stock isgenetically uniorm, though they have observedregional dierences in behavior and size. Tarpon inCosta Rica, or example, are generally smaller thanFlorida tarpon and spawn throughout the yearrather than seasonally.Although tarpon migrate, little is known about therequency or extent o their travels. Scientists doknow that tarpon captured in Florida have beenrecaptured later as ar west as Louisiana and as arnorth as South Carolina. Several projects are underway to learn more about the migratory patterns otarpon. Pop-up archival transmitting tags and orbitingsatellites are being used to help track migratory pathsalong Florida’s east and west coasts, as well aswaters o the Gul o Mexico and Caribbean Sea.Researchers with the Florida Fish and WildlieConservation Commission (FWC) are using geneticmarkers to identiy individual tarpon and track theirmovements along Florida’s coastal andinshore waters.
Florida tarpon begin gathering near the coast inApril or the journey to their oshore spawninggrounds. In these staging areas, scientists andanglers have observed schools o tarpon swimmingin circles. This behavior, known as orming a daisychain, may be a sort o prenuptial tarpon tangothat prepares the sh or spawning. Lunar phasesand tides probably trigger the exodus to theoshore spawning areas, which continues throughJuly. By August, 90% o tarpon in Florida havespawned or the year. A mature emale mayproduce rom 4.5 million to 20.7 million eggsduring one spawning season. The larger, heavier,and older the sh, the more eggs are likely to bereleased in a single batch.Many questions about the liestyle andbehavior o the silver king remain unanswered,particularly about its reproductive biology. Thoughsome anglers claim to have seen tarpon spawning,that experience has long eluded tarpon researchers.Locating spawning grounds could provide a wealtho inormation about the species, as well as anopportunity to collect and describe newly ertilizedeggs. Tarpon larvae only a ew days old have beencollected as ar as 125 miles oshore in the Gulo Mexico.
During aerial surveys by FWRI researchers in1989, 33 tarpon “daisy chains” o 25 to 200 fsh each were observed along a 12-mile stretch o Florida’s west coast.
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Larva illustration ater B. Eldred, 1972; Florida Departmento Natural Resources Marine Research Laboratory LeafetSeries, Vol. 4, Part 1, No. 22.