Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, also known as the Sandbar Shark, Brown Shark, Nigano Shark, Oceanic White-Tipped Whaler, and Silvertip Shark, are a type of Requiem Shark. They are often mistaken for other tips of Requiem Sharks, most notably the Whitetip Reef Shark. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are named for the distinctive white tips on their fins. They are a medium sized shark averaging about 9.8 ft (3 m) in length and weight up to 370 lb (170 kg). Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are found all over the globe and have some fascinating behaviors. Here are 10 fast facts you need to know about Oceanic Whitetip Sharks:
1. Oceanic WhiteTip Sharks Love Deep Waters
Oceanic WhiteTip Sharks tend to prefer the deeper ocean waters. They tend to hunt in the water column around 490 ft (150 m) below the surface. They have been observed at waters as shallow as 120 ft (37 m) and along coastlines. However, they tend to only hunt these waters if they are near a continental shelf where they still have access to the deeper waters they prefer.
2. Oceanic WhiteTip Sharks Prefer Warmer Waters
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks tend to be found along the equator in tropical and subtropical waters around the globe. They prefer warmer waters with temperature between 68-82° F (20-28° C). When the water temperature decreases because of seasonal changes, Ocean Whitetip Sharks will migrate to warmer areas. They have never been observed in waters colder than 64° F (10° C).
3. Ocean Whitetip Sharks Are Not Diurnal
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are not diurnal which means they are active both day and night. They rely on ram breathing, which means they have to constantly swim to pump oxygen over their gills, so they never sleep. They are nicknamed the “Dark Knight of the Ocean” because they tend to hunt mostly at nighttime. Though they are primarily nocturnal, they will opportunistically feed during the day if an easy meal presents itself.
4. They Are Slow Swimmers
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are a species of shark belonging to the Requiem Shark family. Requiem Sharks are known for being slow swimmers, and Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are no different. However they are capable of short bursts of impressive speed. They tend to cruise slowly along the top of the water column looking to spot prey. Scientists believe that the coloration of Ocean Whitetip Sharks tricks fish into thinking they are a school at night, so the prey come close enough that they can quickly lunge out and grab them.
5. Sometimes They Act Like Dogs
Another popular nickname for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks is “sea dogs” because they often exhibit dog-like behaviors. When an Oceanic Whitetip Shark finds something interesting, it will approach cautiously and will retreat if it feels threatened. Then like dogs, they will wait for the perfect opportunity to return and sneak attack. They also are known to follow ships the way a dog will follow their master.
6. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks Engage In “Feeding Frenzies”
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are often seen engaging in a “feeding frenzy.” “Feeding frenzy” is a misnomer though because it assumes that Oceanic Whitetips Sharks are just rabidly attacking as a result of bloodlust. When in fact, they are engaging in complex social behaviors and group hunting. Feeding frenzies are actually very methodical and cooperative ways that Oceanic Whitetip Sharks will hunt in a pack. They really are taking turns striking and sharing food, rather than just violently killing and eating.
7. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks Are Blamed For Hundreds Of Shipwreck Deaths
There are examples throughout history where after a shipwreck has occurred, Oceanic Whitetip Sharks will opportunistically feed on the shipwreck victims. There are two very famous examples of this behavior. The first was in 1945 after a warship, the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed, Oceanic Whitetip Sharks attacked and potentially killed 800 soldiers. Another occurred the same year, when a steamship sunk outside of the coast of South Africa and Oceanic Whitetip Sharks were responsible for 1,000 passengers.
8. Jacques Cousteau Is Very Wary Of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks
Jacques Cousteau, arguably the most famous oceanographer in the world, was once asked what species of shark he found to be the most dangerous. He responded by stating the Oceanic Whitetip Shark is “the most dangerous of all sharks” noting the occurrence of attacks on shipwreck survivors and their quick and agile group hunting skills. Though Great White Sharks have a reputation for being the most ferocious sharks in the water, Cousteau argues that because Oceanic Whitetip Sharks have killed more people, more efficiently, they are a much more dangerous species of shark.
9. Highly Valued For Their Meat
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, like all Requiem Sharks are highly valued by fisherman for their delicious meat. Their hyde is also used for leather. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are also highly are also valued for their fins for shark fin soup, because their pectoral and dorsal fins are especially large. Having such a high market value, means they are fished across the globe and are now facing population pressures from commercial fishing.
10. They Are Highly Endangered
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are classified as a “vulnerable” species of shark and in some areas of the world they are under threat from extinction. Between 1969 and 2003, there has been a 70% decline in their population numbers and that rate keeps growing every year. Between environmental pressures, the brutal practice of shark finning, and a slow reproductive rate, Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are in serious threat of becoming extinct.
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are a very unusual species of shark. Though they resemble other Requiem Sharks, they have truly unique behaviors. They act like dogs, hunt in groups, and are not diurnal. Though they are a very dangerous species, especially for shipwreck survivors, their deep water habitat keeps them from ever truly being a threat to humanity. Instead, Oceanic Whitetip Sharks are under threat from humanity, being killed at an unprecedented rate for their meat and leather. So it is important that we learn more about these amazing predators, in order to protect them from extinction.