Oceanic whitetip shark
Carcharhinus longimanus

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Photo modified from Sharks, History and Biology of the Lords of the Sea. A. Mojetta. 1997. Swan Hill Press.

Description

The oceanic whitetip shark is a stocky and heavy set animal, up to 4 meters (13 feet) in length, with an enlarged rounded first dorsal fin and large paddle like pectoral fins. The tips of the dorsal fins, caudal lobes and pectoral fins are mottled white on adults while juveniles may also have black marks. However the amount of pigmentation on the fin tips varies and is occasionally completely absent. The rest of the body is dark gray or olive gray in colour. The upper teeth are broad and triangular with serrated edges while the lower teeth have narrow serrated cusps and broad bases.

Range

This shark species is found in the oceanic waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the Atlantic it occurs from northeastern Georges Bank, south to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to Argentina. The specimens found occasionally in and around Canadian waters are at the northernmost point of their range.

Habitat

The oceanic whitetip shark is generally found far from shore, from the surface down to a depth of 150 meters (500 feet). This pelagic species is found in water temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius or above.

Life History

Average size for the oceanic whitetip is 150 to 250 cm (59-98 in) and 35 to 70 kg (80-150 lb). They may reach a maximum size of 350 cm or greater. The present view of lifespan is about 12 years for males and 16 years for females.

Diet

This species of shark feeds mainly upon fast moving fishes such as tuna, barracuda and white marlin. However it also consumes squid, turtles, seabirds and even garbage that has been disposed of at sea.

Reproduction

The oceanic whitetip shark is viviparous with litters of 5 to 15 pups which are born at a length of 65 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in). It is believed that litter size increases with the size of the mother. Sexual maturity is reached at approximately 1.8 to 1.9 meters (5.8 feet) in both sexes (6-7 year old individuals).

Interaction with People

The oceanic whitetip is rarely encountered as it inhabits oceanic waters. It is usually only seen if caught by fishermen or around disasters (plane crashes, ships sinking). It is an aggressive shark opportunistically feeding on almost anything it encounters and will not hesitate to approach swimmers or small boats.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • White tipped fins
  • Broad rounded first dorsal fin
  • Large paddle like pectoral fins
  • Nictitating membrane over eye