Patterns of movement in aquatic animals reflect ecologically important behaviours. Cyclical changes in the abiotic environment influence these movements, but when multiple processes occur simultaneously, identifying which is responsible for the observed movement can be complex. Here we used acoustic telemetry and signal processing to define the abiotic processes responsible for movement patterns in freshwater whiprays (Himantura dalyensis). Acoustic transmitters were implanted into the whiprays and their movements detected over 12 months by an array of passive acoustic receivers, deployed throughout 64 km of the Wenlock River, Qld, Australia. The time of an individual’s arrival and departure from each receiver detection field was used to estimate whipray location continuously throughout the study. This created a linear-movement-waveform for each whipray and signal processing revealed periodic components within the waveform. Correlation of movement periodograms with those from abiotic processes categorically illustrated that the diel cycle dominated the pattern of whipray movement during the wet season, whereas tidal and lunar cycles dominated during the dry season. The study methodology represents a valuable tool for objectively defining the relationship between abiotic processes and the movement patterns of free-ranging aquatic animals and is particularly expedient when periods of no detection exist within the animal location data.