This month, it’s the turn of a legendary shark – the Oceanic Whitetip. Known for their incredibly long dorsal and pectoral fins, this species was once the most abundant oceanic-pelagic species of shark on the planet.

 

The Oceanic Whitetip is a species of shark in the same family (Carcharhinidae) as the Blacktip, Bull and Spinner Sharks, amongst others. Sharks in this family are also known as “requiem” sharks. “Requiem” is said to derive from the ancient Norman French word “reschignier” – to bare teeth or grimace.

 

Stocky and large, they are grey or brown above, and white below. Oceanic Whitetips are famous for their huge rounded first dorsal fin and paddle-like pectoral fins. Their fins have distinctive mottled white tips. They are slow moving, and active at day and night. Their huge pectoral fins spread out as they cruise at the surface.

 

They typically feed on oceanic bony fishes and cephalopods. However, they also eat stingrays, sea turtles, birds and crustaceans. They feed by biting into schools of fish or by swimming through schools with their mouth open. When feeding with other species, like Silky sharks, Whitetips can be aggressive. Peter Benchley, author of Jaws observed Whitetip sharks eating the faeces of Pilot Whales!

 

Like all sharks in the Charcharhinidae family, Oceanic Whitetips are viviparous. Embryos develop in utero and are fed by a placental sac. Mating season is in early summer for those in the Atlantic Ocean and southwest Indian ocean. Females in the Pacific have been found with embryos year round – suggesting a longer mating season. The gestation period is one year. Sexual maturity is reached at 4-9 years depending on location.

 

Whilst they are mostly solitary, Oceanic Whitetips do occasionally hunt in groups. These organised group hunts, during which Whitetips cooperate in hunts and strategically take turns in attacking prey.

 

Whitetips are incredibly inquisitive. Unfortunately, this means they are easy to catch. Combined with their low reproductive rate, they are incredibly at risk from population depletion. Previously listed as vulnerable, the Oceanic Whitetip was reclassified to critically endangered in 2019. Populations are declining across the globe, with declines of up to 99% reported in in the northwest and central Atlantic, for example.

 

Conservation efforts to help the species bounce back include listing on CITES Appendix II and CMS Appendix I, for example. They also have protection under some RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations). However, these listings do not mean that Oceanic Whitetips are not still targeted or caught as bycatch in some parts of the world. With populations declining at such a high rate, further protections need to be implemented to ensure that the species can recover.

 

 

SCIENTIFIC NAME:  Carcharhinus longimanus

FAMILY:  Carcharhinidae

MAXIMUM SIZE: ~380cm long

DIET: Oceanic boy fishes and cephalopods. But also on stingrays, sea birds, turtles, marine gastropods, crustaceans, marine mammal carrion and garbage.

DISTRIBUTION:  Worldwide – formerly the most abundant warm-water oceanic-pelagic shark.

HABITAT:  Oceanic (occasionally coastal). Far off-shore, from surface to depths of 1082m. Temperatures between 18-28°c.

CONSERVATION STATUS: Critically endangered.

Related Links:

Check out our ID Guide for the Oceanic Whitetip

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section


Image: Oceanic Whitetip © Frogfish Photography