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Blacktip Reef Shark

Carcharhinus melanopterus

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The blacktip reef shark is a common, recognizable species associated with reefs in tropical and subtropical areas of the ocean. They have what most people would consider a classic shark silhouette — one that tapers at both ends (also known as a fusiform body) with a pointed snout, triangular fins and long gill slits. The shark’s body is generally dark grey along the back with a lighter colored belly. This “countershading” is common in many fish and helps to camouflage them against the dark water when seen from above or against the sunshine when seen from below. As the shark’s name suggests, the tips of the pectoral, dorsal, pelvic and caudal fins are black. A typical adult measures just over 5 feet (1.5 m).

Although these sharks generally do not present any threat to people, attacks have been recorded during “feeding frenzies,” an aggressive group attack on prey by a number of sharks. Frenzies usually occur when a predator is overwhelmed by the number of prey available or stimulated by excessive noise or movement in the water. This may create a crazed reaction where the shark bites at anything that moves. This shark’s normal diets consist of fish, crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks.

Range and Habitat

This shark has an extremely wide range and can be found in tropical and subtropical waters all over the world. It prefers shallower waters of no more than 100 feet (30.48 m) and can live in murky waters with low salinity such as in estuaries and mangrove swamps. They will hunt around reefs and along the continental shelf, the submerged edge of a continent where the sea is relatively shallow compared to the open ocean.

Conservation Status

Near threatened. Aside from the issues facing many shark species — loss of habitat, competition for food sources and changing ocean conditions due to climate change — this shark’s numbers are dwindling as it is actively hunted in certain parts of the world. Commercial markets for the shark’s fins, liver oil, skin and meat have taken their toll. Combined with this species slow reproductive rate, scientists are worried that the blacktip reef shark’s population may be in serious danger in the years ahead.