Featured Species Friday: Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)

This week’s Featured Species is a fantastic pelagic predator, the Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus).  These medium sized sharks have an enlarged dorsal fin and wide, paddle-like pectoral fins that allow them to conserve energy between sweeps of their caudal fins and glide (Tricas, et al., 1997). As juveniles, they sometimes have black smudges on the tips of their fins, however their namesake is from their adult form which sports mottled white tips on all their fins. While they somewhat resemble the timid whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), don’t be fooled! The oceanic whitetip is not to be trifled with!

Left: Whitetip Reef Shark [Digital Image]. (2014). Retrieved from http://r.ddmcdn.com/ Right: Oceanic Whitetip Shark [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.divernet.com/

While most people associate the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) with having the highest number of fatal attacks on humans, it is suspected the oceanic whitetip may actually hold the record (Parker, 2008). These sharks spend most of their lives in the vast void of the open ocean. So when the opportunity arises to investigate new sounds and smells, they are not timid! Shortly after midnight on July 29th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was struck by a torpedo after a secret mission to deliver the atomic bomb that would end World War II. The sounds of the vessels breaking apart as it sank would travel in water much further than in the air, as water conducts sound better than air. The smells from the victims and the survivors would travel on the ocean currents for miles. According to survivors, the sharks didn’t take long to arrive. Of the 1,196 men aboard the Indianapolis, 900 went into the water alive that night. After four days in the water, only 317 survived (Geiling, 2013). The men faced many almost impossible odds in the water, including heat and dehydration which led many to drink the seawater – a death sentence by poisoning. By some survivor accounts, sharks may have taken as many as 150 men. By others, only a few dozen (Geiling, 2013). We will never know. But shark experts agree, the likely culprit is the oceanic whitetip (Parker, 2008).

U.S. Navy (Archiver) (1931). USS Indianapolis in New York Harbor, N.Y., May 31, 1931. [Digital Image]. http://www.dodlive.mil/

But while it is true the oceanic whitetip is an opportunistic hunter, they are hardly blood thirsty, mindless killers with a taste for human flesh. They are highly developed predators adapted for the harsh environment of the open ocean. While the narration on this video is a little sensationalized, the interviews are conducted well and the information is factual. It is worth taking the 3 minutes to watch!


Discovery (2015 June 16). Oceanic Whitetip: The Zen Shark Warrior [Video Clip]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/

Shark Stats

Authority: Poey, 1868

Family: Carcharhinidae; 59+ species

Length: Average 10 feet (3 m); Up to 14 feet (4.3 m)

Weight: Up to 375 lbs (170 kg)

Habitat: Deep open pelagic habitat in tropical waters

Depth: Surface to 500 feet (152 m)

Reproduction: Viviparous

Gestation: 12 months

Litter Range: 1 – 15 pups

Home Range: World wide tropical and sub tropical distribution

Diet: Variety of fishes, squids, whale carcasses, turtles, sea birds, garbage

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

(Baum, Medina, Musick, & Smale, 2015; Parker, 2008)

Thank you for checking out this week’s featured species! If you missed last week, the Silky Sharks are not to be missed! If there’s a species you are interested in learning more about, let me know. Leave me a comment or send me a message! I’d love to know what you’re interested in knowing more about.

The new Ocean For Sharks Shop is open! There’s handmade ocean inspired plush animals, canvas paintings, and of course my children’s book, Winifred the Wondrous Whale Shark, available in print and PDF. Be sure to stop by. Remember proceeds benefit shark research and conservation with a donation to Project AWARE!

Remember you can make a difference for marine ecosystems by calling your Congress man or woman and tell them that you care about the quality of our waters! Sharks, rays, and other marine organisms cannot speak or be represented in Congress. They need your voice. Get involved and stand up for sharks. Until next time finatics.

_DSC2870Featured Image Source

Botelho, D. (Photographer). (2014). Oceanic Whitetip Shark [Digital Image]. Retrieved from http://www.epicdiving.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/daniel_botelho_epic_diving_oceanic_whitetip_shark10.jpg

Literature Cited

Baum, J., Medina, E., Musick, J.A. & Smale, M. 2015. Carcharhinus longimanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T39374A85699641.

Frederico, L., & Hassall, G. (Eds.). (1998). Reader’s Digest Explores: Sharks (1st ed.). Reader’s Digest.

Geiling, N. (2013, August 08). The Worst Shark Attack in History. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-worst-shark-attack-in-history-25715092/

Parker, S. (2008). The encyclopedia of sharks (2nd ed.). Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books Ltd.

Tricas, T. C., Deacon, K., Last, P., McCosker, J. E., Walker, T. I., & Taylor, L. (1997). The Nature Company Guides: Sharks and Rays. (L. Taylor, Ed.). Hong Kong: The Nature Company, Time Life Books.

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Featured Species: Silky Sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis)

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