The Oceanic Whitetip is a species of very ferocious sharks that are often regarded as the boldest, most inquisitive and opportunistic feeders of all shark species. These creatures live in the deep waters of the open oceans almost throughout the world and are known to be a trickster, often getting away with its crimes without leaving any evidence.
It is not to be confused with the white tip reef shark, which is different from the oceanic whitetip, with the former being much smaller and less aggressive. The oceanic whitetip shark is so named because of the white hues on the tips of their fins.
Size: A healthy, adult individual is between 3 to 3.9 m (9.84 to 12.80 ft) in length.
considerably large adult specimen can weigh around 170 kg in an average.
body color may vary, depending on their geographic locations, from brown or gray
to olive gray, beige or bronze, and occasionally, even bluish. The stomach (ventral)
part is usually white, and, at times, with a tinge of yellow.
Fins: The first
dorsal fins are rounded. The pectoral,
first dorsal, pelvic, and caudal fins are often white or show white mottling.
Eyes: Large, rounded eyes with a nictitating membrane over each.
Teeth: The sharp
upper teeth are considerably broad with a triangular shape, and are serrated at the edges; the teeth in the
lower jaw are relatively narrow, having broad bases and serrated cusps.
Sexual Dimorphism: There
are no visual differences between the
sexes, except that the females are larger and somewhat heavier than the males.
The currently estimated longevity of the male oceanic whitetip shark is about 12 years, and of the female is 16 years in the wild.
These enormous fish are globally widespread and are found in
the waters of all the three major oceans of the world – Indian, Atlantic, and
These ferocious sharks are usually found far from shore down
to a depth of about 500 feet from the water surface, mostly in the warmer waters
with temperatures of around 22° C or higher.
These are primarily solitary creatures, although they are often
seen gathering at a common place where food is lavishly available. They are natatorial
and can cover long distances. These sharks are ready to move from one location
to the other only to search for food, or else, during seasonal migration from
colder to warmer water.
However, they are relatively slow swimmers because of the
wideness of their pectoral fins. They have also been noted to undergo a tonic
immobility state when an individual goes into a state of trance and remains
Interestingly, this has also been done by scuba divers by
placing a hand atop a whitetip’s electroreceptors
and then rubbing the snout, which temporarily stunned the shark. Researchers
often use this method to calm them down before tagging or measuring a specimen.
This process makes it less likely to injure them.
This shark species would feed on just anything moving, but
its primary diet includes fast-moving fishes including barracuda, tuna, white
marlin, etc. However, they would also eat turtles, seabirds, squids, and other
Reproduction & Life Cycle
Due to the difficulty
of sampling, there is no documented data regarding the mating system of these
aquatic creatures. However, they have been known to breed once in two years during
early summer, when the mating typically occurs in the southwestern parts of the
Indian Ocean, and to the northwest of the Atlantic.
The oceanic whitetip shark is viviparous and reproduces live
young via internal fertilization. The embryos
inside the mother’s abdomen derive nutrition from the yolk sacs connected to
the uterine wall. Using this means, the mother
sharks keep supplying the nutrients to the offspring (embryos) until they
The litter size of the whitetips is 5 to 15. The newborn baby
sharks are around 65 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) in length. However, researchers
believe that the size of the litter varies with the female’s size.
The young juveniles belonging to both the sexes attain the
age of sexual maturity when the cubs are around 1.8 to 1.9 meters (5.8 feet) in
length, i.e., 6-7 years old.
The first dorsal fin of this shark is distinctly large; the pectoral fins are paddle-like, quite long and wide as well as rounded like many other shark species, which help them immensely in moving through the waters smoothly despite their great size.
The nictitating membrane over the eyes, which is rare among the shark species, protects the eyes from external influences.
Enemies, Threats & Predators
The oceanic whitetip shark is a predator at the top of the
pelagic food webs, and do not have any natural predators. However, as
mentioned, they are extensively hunted down by humans because of their
popularity in the booming shark fin soup industry around the world.
Even in the recent past, the oceanic whitetip was one of the
most common species, but is now in serious
danger of extinction, since this fish is commercially important for its
fins (for the popular ‘fin soup’ dish), meat, oil, and hide (for leather).
Because of their rapidly declining population, the oceanic whitetip sharks have
been enlisted as ‘VU’ (Vulnerable) by the
Does the Oceanic Whitetip Shark Attack Humans
Oceanic whitetip shark is an aggressive and opportunistic
feeder, attacking almost anything moving, which falls on its way. It will also not
hesitate to approach divers, swimmers, surfers, or small boats.
However, the oceanic whitetips are seldom encountered since they inhabit the deep oceanic waters. Nonetheless,
this species is known to be one of the few sharks that are known to attack,
bite or kill humans.
Experts assert that such incidents are very rare, and, almost
certainly, are cases of mistaken identity. Several reports have informed that
they are often seen around disasters caused by plane crashes or sinking ships,
or else if caught by deep-sea fishermen.
A Bahamas fishing spot preferred by fishermen has turned to a source of frustration for the sports since these sharks have repeatedly been stealing their fish. However, it is still a mystery as to how these creatures come to know exactly when a fisherman has caught a fish.
Presently, the Gulf of Mexico population has gone down drastically in just four decades, coming down to 99%.
It is thought that these sharks are so intelligent that they can instantly approach a fishing boat to steal fish by just hearing the decreasing sound of the boat engine, as the skipper gradually slows it down after catching a fish.
Celebrated and veteran marine explorer Jacques Cousteau had ranked this species as one of the most notorious for its brazenness while evaluating its prey.
The shark has such a big appetite that they have even been seen gobbling garbage disposed at sea.
This shark turned out to be a principal enemy during the times of World War II, when the ship Nova Scotia sunk in the ocean and the soldiers ended up jumping into the water as their transport was attacked.
The pilot fish and the dolphin fish are the two fish species that are seen accompanying the oceanic whitetip sharks.