WHAT TO LOOK FOR
A large shark with large rounded white-tipped fins. The shark has a high rounded first dorsal fin and very long paddle-shaped pectoral fins.
Gray bronze above, white below. White mottling on dorsal and pectoral fins.
Most specimens are 6.5 ft [2 m] or less, but a few individuals may reach a total length of 11.5 to 12.9 ft [3.5 to 3.95 m]. Males mature at 5.7 to 6.5 ft [1.75 to 1.98 m] and reach at least 8 ft [2.45 m]. Females mature at 5.9 to 6.6 ft [1.8 to 2 m], and reach at least 8.8 ft [2.7 m].
Oceanic, epipelagic, but occasionally coastal. This species is usually found far offshore in the open sea, but it is sometimes found off oceanic islands where the water is 120 ft [37 m] deep. The shark is regularly found in waters 64°F to 82°F [18°C to 28°C], but prefers sea temperatures above 68°F [20°C].
Circumglobal in tropical and warm temperate seas. Once abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, the species has virtually disappeared due to overfishing.
Prey – Primarily bony fish such as tuna, marlin, jacks, barracuda and dolphinfish, but it also feeds on cephalopods, sea birds, turtles, marine mammals, carrion and garbage.
Reproduction – Viviparous, with a yolk-sac placenta. Litter size ranges from 1 to 15. Gestation is about 12 months. Size at birth ranges from 1.9 to 2.13 ft [60 to 65 cm]
The shark cruises leisurely near the surface with its huge pectoral fins outspread. It can be extremely fast and aggressive when competing for food.
The oceanic whitetip shark is often very bold and persistent when it is inspecting a potential food source.
This species is currently listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as “Vulnerable”.
The shark has been implicated in a number of unprovoked attacks on swimmers. Divers report that it is very persistent in baited and unbaited situations. When fended off, an oceanic whitetip shark often returns, circles and approaches again. Its opportunistic feeding habits, heavy build, strong jaws and teeth, and its stubborn aggressiveness indicate that it should be treated with caution.