Another case of mysterious naming is the Whitetip Reef shark (Triaenodon obesus). Not the English name, which is quite apt due to its white tips on dorsal and caudal fins and its exclusive habitat, but the Latin one is untrue: this slender shark is far from obese. On the contrary, as nocturnal hunter it can detect its prey by electroreception (using its ampullae of Lorenzini) and smell (with unique tubular nasal flaps) and follows it into their resting crevices (well adapted to this hunting practice due to its tough skin, sleek build, blunt snout and ridges to protect its eyes), and some sharks “actually squirm into a hole in one side of a coral head and exit through an opening on the other”.

Three gray sharks lying beside each other on the sea bottom.
By Dorothy from USA – sharks, CC BY 2.0, Link

The Whitetip Reef shark is gregarious (sometimes even hunts in groups) and can be seen resting in groups on the bottom or in caves during daytime. It doesn’t need to swim to breathe, unlike other requiem sharks. Not to be confused with the other Whitetip requiem shark (the Oceanic Whitetip), the smaller Whitetip Reef shark (up to 5.6 ft -1.7 m- long) isn’t dangerous to humans. Sadly, as opportunistic feeder it learnt to associate the sounds of boats and spearfishing with food – the curious shark can become bold and agitated and sometimes bites while trying to steal the fish.

Like all requiem sharks, the Whitetip Reef shark is ovoviviparous: every two years 2 to 3 living young are born at a length of 20 to 24 in -52 to 60 cm. There is a case of Parthenogenesis (asexually reproduction) in Whitetip reef sharks. They grow slowly, mature at about 3.4 feet -1.05 m- and live up to 25 years.

Whitetip Reef sharks live in coral reefs all around the world. They are homebodies and famous for their site fidelity. That means that dangers to their coral reef due to climate change, overheating and pollution have a deep impact on the shark population, too, in addition to commercial and recreational fisheries. They are considered as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Conservation measures like marine protected areas (MPA) seems to help, but only if they are completely no-entry. On the Great Barrier Reef, populations of Whitetip Reef sharks in fishing zones have been reduced by 80% relative to no-entry zones. However, populations in no-take zones, where boats are allowed but fishing prohibited, exhibit levels of depletion comparable to fishing zones, most likely due to poaching (IUU). Demographic models indicate that these depleted populations will continue to decline by 6.6–8.3% per year without additional conservation measures.

Sources: here, here and here

Advertisements