Whitetip reef shark

Triaenodon obesus

Type: Fish - Shark Litter size: 1 to 5 (typically 2 to 3) Other common names: Blunthead shark, reed whitetip Life span: 19 to 25 years years Diet description: bony fishes and cephalopods Max length: 2.13 metres Habitat and range: Widespread distribution in tropical waters throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans, from West Africa to the eastern Pacific. Almost exclusively found on or near coral reefs or in coral lagoons. Relative size: Image IUCN status: Vulnerable (VU) - Decreasing population Vulnerable (VU)
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A 'cuddle puddle' of whitetip reef sharks resting on a rocky ledge. Photo © James Lea
A 'cuddle puddle' of whitetip reef sharks resting on a rocky ledge. Photo © James Lea


Small, slender shark with very broad snout. Large, oval eyes. Grey-brown body with pale underside, and scattered darker spots on flanks. Distinctive, brilliant white tips on first dorsal and terminal caudal fin.


Whitetip reef sharks are nocturnal, and are most active at night. They are specialists in hunting prey hidden in the reef, using scent, sound and electroreception to detect fish and cephalopods tucked away in holes, crevices and caves. They are also social animals, and by day can be found snoozing in groups on ledges or in caves.


Whitetip reef sharks are viviparous (give birth to live young) and can have 1 to 5 pups per litter.


Whitetip reef sharks are associated with coral reefs in clear, tropical waters. They are found throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans, from West Africa to the eastern Pacific, with a depth range of 1 to 330 metres. 



Whitetip reef sharks feed mainly on bony fishes and cephalopods found in their coral reef habitat.


There are intensive industrial and small-scale fisheries in some parts of the whitetip’s range. It is retained for its meat and fins. Because of its reliance on coral reefs, the whitetip is also threatened by climate change, which affects the health and function of this key habitat and the whitetip’s prey species. Coral reefs are also threatened by destructive fishing and recreational practices.


Whitetip reef sharks are generally considered harmless to humans and are rarely aggressive. They are a popular species with divers, and have even been known to be hand-fed.

In some parts of their range, they are fished for their fins and meat. 


In Queensland, Australia, there is a trip limit (which indicates the total amount of fish that may be taken and retained, possessed, or landed per vessel from a single fishing trip or cumulatively per unit of time) of one for whitetip reef sharks, for both commercial and recreational fishers. Some other countries within its range have banned targeted fishing for sharks, including Egypt, Sudan, the Cook Islands, Palau and French Polynesia. And, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designated for the whitetip’s coral reef habitat may offer the species some protection. However, the effectiveness of these measures depends on the level of enforcement.


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

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020. Whitetip reef shark, Triaenodon obesus

Marine Bio. Whitetip reef shark.

Maui Ocean Center. Whitetip reef shark.

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