White Tip Reef Sharks
Monthly Marine Life Feature : White Tip Reef Shark – Triaenodon obesus
Here in North Sulawesi we are lucky enough to spot white tip reef sharks at many of our dives sites and we even have a few places where they seem to have made a part of the reef their permanent home. The white tip reef shark is species of requiem shark which has a grey to brown colouration on the top of its body, a white underbelly and distinctive white tips to the anal and caudal fins (where the name “white tip” comes from). It is a small member of the shark family and grows from just 52 cm as a new born pup up to around only 1.6 meters when fully matured. Physically the white tip reef shark has a relatively slender body and a short head which make it an ideal shape for forcing itself into small crevices and hollows whilst hunting for the crustaceans and bony fishes on which it feeds.
White tips are predominantly nocturnal hunters – sleeping fish inside corals are easy targets (!), by day they spend most of their time resting underneath ledges or on sandy bottoms and they are commonly found in caves. At Sahoung dive site in Bangka we see them sleeping underneath table corals during the day and at at Lekuan 1 dive site in Bunaken there are several caves where we know they like to rest. As the white tip does not rely on ram ventilation as a method of breathing (a process which requires constant swimming) it can lay still and is able to pump water over its gills whilst stationary in order to breathe – this means we get some great sightings and photo opportunities too!
Despite the white tip reef shark being one of the most common shark species in the Indo-Pacific region females only give birth to one to six live pups in each pregnancy, in fact, in a life time a female white tip may only produce up to twelve pups. Life expectancy for white tips varies from region to region but could be upwards of 25 years in some areas.
White tip reef sharks are not aggressive and we see them both individually and in pairs or even small schools. White tips are non-migratory and individuals stay in the same locales for long periods – while they may move from place to place the distances they travel are small. This also means our guides know the best places to see them!
White tips prefer coral reef environments, relatively clear water and are usually seen at between 8 – 40 meters. On all of our dives from Murex Bangka and Murex Manado there is a chance to see one passing through but our best sightings are at Lekuan 2 or Fukui in Bunaken and at Sahaung or Batu Tiga in Bangka.
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