Oceanic whitetip shark

Carcharhinus longimanus

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Type: Fish - Shark Litter size: 1 to 15 pups Other common names: Nigano shark, whitetip, whitetip shark, whitetip whaler Life span: 25 years Diet description: Pelagic bony fish, squid Max length: 4 metres Habitat and range: Worldwide in tropical and warmer temperate waters. A pelagic species, typically found in open ocean, but occasionally near shore when there is very deep water nearby. Relative size: Image IUCN status: Critically endangered (CR) - Decreasing population Critically endangered (CR)
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Identification

Oceanic whitetips can be readily identified by the prominent white tips on their large, rounded dorsal, pectoral and tail fins. They are otherwise mostly grey with a white underbelly.

Photo © Chris Vaughan-Jones
Photo © Chris Vaughan-Jones

Reproduction

Oceanic whitetips are viviparous, meaning they have a placenta and give birth to live young. After a gestation period of 10–12 months, litters of 1–15 pups are born free swimming, with each pup measuring approximately 0.6 m. Estimates of age at maturity vary depending on location, but the range is considerable at 4–15 years.

Habitat and geographical range

Worldwide in tropical and warmer temperate waters. They are a pelagic species, typically found in open ocean but occasionally near shore when there is very deep water nearby.

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Diet

Oceanic whitetips feed primarily on pelagic fish such as jacks, tuna, mackerel and cephalopods such as squid. They will also aggregate in large numbers around carrion such as dead whale carcasses to feed on the calorific blubber.

Threats

Oceanic whitetips are severely threatened by overfishing, most significantly by commercial longliners on the high seas. They are also caught in purse seine and gillnet fisheries, and are mainly used for their fins and meat, as well as liver oil and skin. Overfishing has been so intense that it is thought their populations may have declined by more than 90% globally, and as such they are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Relationship with humans

Oceanic whitetips’ primary interaction with humans is through high-seas fisheries, as their pelagic nature otherwise rarely brings them into contact with people. However, they are known to have predated on survivors of shipwrecks and crashed aircraft. The most famous example is of the USS Indianapolis, where survivor accounts suggest that many died from shark bites, with oceanic whitetips believed to be the dominant species. Despite their declines, there are still a few locations where they are encountered reliably (e.g. The Bahamas and the Red Sea) by ecotourism operators.

References

David A. Ebert. et al, 2021, Sharks of the World: A Complete Guide.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Oceanic whitetip shark: Carcharhinus longimanus

Florida Museum, 2018, Carcharhinus longimanus

NOAA Fisheries, Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Oceana, 2021, Oceanic whitetip shark

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