Whitetip reef sharks are a commonly spotted shark whilst diving a lot of coral reefs. They aren’t bothered by the presence of scuba divers so you can tend to get quite close as they rest on the bottom or in their caves. This allows for excellent photographic opportunities.
They are most active at night and in some dive locations, especially in the Maldives, you can night dive on reefs and witness the sharks hunting and feeding. Diving these events is an exhilarating experience as the sharks are fast moving, in hunting mode, aren’t bothered about getting very close and its dark so you can’t see where all the sharks are meaning that you can turn and find one right next to you! This heart racing experience is a must do, watching a shark catch a fish in front of you is amazing, and you shouldn’t be worried about the sharks or getting mistakenly bitten, even though the sharks will be curious about you, they do not see you as a source of food and will leave you alone to hunt the small fish which are.
Whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) is a species of requim shark and is easily identified by its white tipped fins, tubular skin flaps by its nose and oval eyes with vertical pupils. It is a small, slender shark and only grows to 1.6m. They are unique amongst requiem sharks which all need to constantly swim to breathe, but the Whitetip Reef sharks do not. They can pump water over their gills which allow them to sit still on the bottom.
It is one of the three most common sharks found on indo-pacific reefs, the others being Blacktip reef sharks and grey reef sharks, and can be found as far west as South Africa and east as central America. Lots of Whitetips stay in the same reef area for months or years and also return to the same shelter. They are most commonly found at depths of 8-40m.
These sharks are most active during the night, which is when they feed. As they do not need to constantly swim to breathe, they spend much of the day resting under rocks, coral or in caves. They are not territorial and commonly share their caves with many other whitetips.
They feed on bony fish, crustaceans and octopus and their elongated bodies allow them to force their way into crevasses and holes to catch hiding prey.
Whitetips are very rarely aggressive towards humans but are curious so may investigate swimmers quite closely. The only danger is if provoked or if you are spearfishing as the whitetips may attempt to steal the catch and therefore putting the fisherman in danger of being bitten themselves. In some places WHitetips have learnt to associate the sound of a speargun going off as meaning food and can appear to steal the catch very quickly.
Whitetip reef sharks are hunted and are classified as near threatened as their numbers have dropped. Its restricted habitat and slow reproduction means that it is slow to recover from overfishing.
More detailed information about Whitetip Reef Sharks can be found here.
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