Common Name – Whitetip Reef Shark, Blunthead Shark
As its name implies, this shark features bright white tips on its fins and is found on reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It should not be confused with another requiem shark, the oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimaus), which is larger and prefers open ocean habitats.
The whitetip reef shark is small and slender, with its first dorsal fin placed unusually far back on its body. Its coloration is usually dark grey above fading to white below, with small spots appearing at irregular intervals along its body. Its blunt snout features distinct flaps in front of its nostrils. This shark reaches about five feet when fully grown.
These sharks are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. Females usually carry between one and five embryos, which can be up to two feet long at birth.
In 2008 a captive shark was observed to have produced a pup through what is believed to be asexual means, an act that has only been recorded in a few shark species, including the blacktip and the bonnethead.
The whitetip reef shark is a bottom dweller that inhabits shallow reefs. During the day, these sharks typically rest in caves or under overhangs. Unlike most other sharks, the whitetip reef does not need to keep constantly swimming to facilitate breathing, so it can lay motionless on the sea floor as long as it wants.
At night, these sharks patrol the reef in droves in search of food, which can consist of fish, octopi and crustaceans. They are extremely agile and are able to dive deep into tight holes and crevices to root out their prey.
Whitetip reef sharks do quite well in captivity, due in part to their ability to breathe without swimming. They are a popular attraction in aquaria around the world.
They are usually quite docile and harmless, although they are very curious and will sometimes attempt to steal fish from spearfishermen, which can lead to the humans being bitten. They can also defend themselves quite effectively if provoked, and rare accounts of unprovoked attacks have been recorded. However, in some areas they have been conditioned to be hand fed by divers and are a strong attraction for ecotourism.
In some places these sharks are eaten by humans, though they may contain parasites which can cause a type of food poisoning known as ciguatera. This toxin is more likely to occur in the liver than the flesh.
These sharks are listed as “Near Threatened”, thanks mainly to unrestricted commercial fishing. Habitat reduction due to climate change causing coral bleaching is another factor in their declining numbers. These fish are slow to mature and do not reproduce often, so recovery from these threats is slow to occur.
The Sharks of North America, Jose I. Castro, 2011
The Little Guides: Sharks, Edited by Leighton Taylor, 1999
Sharks of the World, 2005, Leonard Compagno, Marc Dando, Sarah Fowler
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