Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are very curious sharks and frequently interact with divers. If you are careful there is no problem diving with Oceanics and it can be a thrilling experience getting up close to these amazing sharks. These interactions are often in shallow water and on safety stops. These sharks will circle divers and due to their curiosity will get very close and tend to show a lot of interest in divers with large camera housings with dome ports, probably as they can see their reflection. This means they are great for photographers and can provide you with many photo opportunities.
Certain behaviour is advised when these sharks are in the area. Divers should remain still and hang in the water. Do not flap or panic, especially on the surface as this attracts the sharks attention. When exiting the water approach the boat underwater and surface with as little fuss possible.
The presence of this sharks in some areas, for example the Brother islands in the red sea, have led to a ban on night dives as this is when they feed and they can get a lot more aggressive towards divers when in feeding mode.
Oceanics are an open ocean shark and a scavenger, this means they investigate anything that could be food floating on the surface, which is why snorkelling is not advised. Recently they have been responsible for attacks on swimmers and snorkelers in the Sharm el Sheikh area and this led to a snorkelling ban. Attacks are very rare and when they do happen there tend to be human factors such as dumping animal carcasses or chumming as contributing factors. There have not been any attacks on divers.
This same scavenging behaviour means that they are likely responsible for open-ocean attacks following air or sea disasters. They can be very aggressive and unpredictable in the presence of potential prey.
Oceanics can grow up to 4 metres, although usually they do not exceed 3 metres, with the female typically larger than the male. Their maximum reported weight is 170 kilograms. Males can live-up to 12 years old whereas females can live-up to 16 years old. Oceanic whitetip sharks feed on oceanic bony fishes, including tuna and dolphin fish, threadfins, stingrays, sea turtles, sea birds, gastropods, squid, crustaceans, mammal carrion and sometimes even garbage.
This shark is usually observed well offshore in deep water areas (0-152 meters) although on occasion it has been reported in shallower waters near land, usually near oceanic islands. Longline capture data in the Pacific Ocean shows that abundance of this shark increases along with distance from land. It is one of the top three most abundant oceanic sharks, which also include the blue shark and the silky shark. The oceanic whitetip shark is very abundant throughout its range which includes water with temperatures are above 21°C. Although this shark is primarily solitary, it has been observed in "feeding frenzies" when a food source is present.
An unusual behaviour of the oceanic whitetip shark is its association with the shortfin pilot whale in Hawaiian waters. They are often observed swimming along with pods of pilot whales. Although the reason for such behaviour is unknown, it is suspected to be food-related. Pilot whales are efficient at locating squids upon which the oceanic whitetip sharks also feed.
Due to its extreme abundance, this shark is subject to pressure as bycatch in tuna and other oceanic fisheries. Its fins are especially highly prized due to their large size while the remainder of the shark is often discarded. Although little is known regarding current fishing pressure, it is likely to come under increased pressure in the future. The oceanic whitetip shark is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
More detailed information about Oceanic Whitetip Sharks can be found here.
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