Despite being the most common shark in reefs of the Caribbean Sea, the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) is one of the least-studied large requiem sharks. It looks a lot like its sister species Dusky shark, but lives solely on or near coral reefs in the tropical western Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil.
Caribbean reef sharks are nocturnal and can be found resting in caves or on the sea floor by day (once famous in Mexico as “sleeping sharks”). They mature at 5 to 5.5 ft -1.5 to 1.7 m- (males) or around 6.5 ft -2.0 m- (females) and can reach a length of up to 9.7 ft -3 m, making them one of the largest apex predators in the reef ecosystem. Females are ovoviviparous and give birth to 3 to 6 24 to 30 inches -61 to 76 cm- long living pups every 2 years.
Despite their size Caribbean reef sharks are normally unaggressive toward divers, except in the presence of food – spear fishermen can get accidentally bitten (there are 4 registered unprovoked non-fatal attacks by this species), but sometimes also members of baited diving tours. Attracting sharks by feeding is a controversial by-product of ecotourism (and banned in Florida). Associate humans with food by the sharks (like by bears) seems only a problem if the species usually feed on mammals (like White sharks), but the artificial concentration of predators (like in the image above) and the intensified removal of fishes from the environment for use as shark bait (instead of using fish offal) could be a concern. Showing sharks to tourists, but also photographers and filmmakers, is more profitable than killing them – and provides a sustainable livelihood for ex-fishermen in times of overfishing. Unless, of course, their colleagues exploit this changed behavior of sharks to catch them all, not on film but on the thousands of baited hooks of longlines.
Because Caribbean reef sharks have been targeted by longline and gillnet for their meat, skin, jaws, fins and liver oil or taken as bycatch, resulting in its Near Threatened status. It is the most common shark species landed in Colombia, but protected in the U.S., Bahamas and some marine protected areas off Brazil. Illegal fishing and habitat degradation (coral bleaching) are dangers, too. Caribbean reef sharks off the coast of Florida have been found with dangerous levels of methyl mercury – higher than the FDA guidelines, anyway, the European guidelines are different and incomprehensibly (imo) permit higher levels for large predator species.