Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Also known as: blacktip whaler
GenusCarcharhinus (1)
SizeLength: up to 255 cm (2)

The blacktip shark is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) is a large, stout shark, with a long, pointed snout and small eyes (2). Its torpedo-shaped body, grey or grey-brown on the back and white on the belly (2), allows it to cut easily through the water (3), and a conspicuous white stripe runs along the flanks (2). As its name suggests, the pectoral fins, the second dorsal fin and the top part of the tail fin have black tips (2). The first dorsal fin and lower part of the tail fin are usually edged with black (2).

The blacktip shark occurs in all tropical and subtropical waters (2).

This shark is commonly found close inshore, around river mouths, estuaries, mangrove swamps and coral lagoons. The blacktip shark also inhabit waters far offshore, but is rarely found deeper than 30 metres (2).

The fast-swimming blacktip shark is an active fish that can be seen leaping out of the water and spinning before dropping back into the sea (2). This agile spinning behaviour is thought to be used while feeding on small schooling fishes, such as herrings or sardines. The sharks propel themselves vertically, up through the school, spinning and snapping in all directions until they breach the surface (2). As well as feeding on schools of small bony fish, the blacktip shark occasionally preys on squid, cuttlefish, octopi, crabs and lobsters (2). Blacktip sharks often occur in large schools, which with their highly energetic temperament, can result in competitive feeding frenzies when confronted with immense shoals of fish or the waste of a shrimp trawler being dumped overboard (2) (4).

Mating in the blacktip shark occurs from May to June, and pregnancy lasts for about one year (5). The viviparous blacktip shark gives birth in shallow, coastal waters, to between one and ten pups in May or June. The young remain in the calm, food-rich nursery area until autumn (2) (5).

The primary threat facing the blacktip shark comes from commercial and recreational fisheries (1). The flesh is consumed by humans or used in fishmeal, hides are used for leather, fins can be sold to Asian markets for shark fin soup, and the livers provide vitamin-rich oil (2). The blacktip shark’s inshore habitat is also vulnerable to the impacts of human activities, which can alter or degrade critical nursery areas (1).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the blacktip shark to not yet be at risk of extinction (1), as there is no evidence of any population declines. However, as the blacktip shark is fished, and inhabits areas vulnerable to degradation, it comes close to being classified as Vulnerable (1). Hopefully, careful fisheries management, and measures to protect coastal habitats will ensure that the blacktip shark never moves into this category.

For further information on sharks and their conservation: 

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) FAO Species Catalogue. Vol 4: Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Part 2: Carcharhiniformes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Ferrari, A. and Ferrari, A. (2002) Sharks. Firefly Books Ltd, Toronto.
  5. Castro, J.I. (1996) Biology of the blacktip shark, Carcharhinus limbatus, off the Southeastern United States. Bulletin of Marine Science, 59(3): 508 - 522.