Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)

Also known as: whitetip oceanic shark, whitetip shark, white-tipped shark
French: Requin Océanique
Spanish: Tiburón Oceanico
GenusCarcharhinus (1)
SizeLength: up to 396 cm (2)
Weightup to 167.4 kg (2)

The oceanic whitetip shark classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) has a stocky build, a short, bluntly-rounded snout, and incredibly powerful jaws (3) (4). This predator grips its prey with the pointed teeth of the lower jaw, serrated only at the tip, while the broader, triangular, serrated teeth in the upper jaw are used to saw, cut and tear the flesh (3) (4). The first dorsal fin is distinctively large and rounded, and the paddle-like pectoral fins are very long and wide (3). The oceanic whitetip shark is so named because the tips of its pectoral, first dorsal, pelvic, and caudal fins are often white or show white mottling (2) (3) (4). These markings are usually black on young individuals with a length under 1.3 metres, and a dark, saddle-shaped marking may also be present between the first and second dorsal fin (3) (5). Depending on geographic location, the body colour may be brown, grey, beige or bronze, sometimes bluish, while the stomach is usually white, occasionally with a yellow tinge (2) (4).

The oceanic whitetip shark can be found from Maine in the United States, south to Argentina in the Western Atlantic Ocean, including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,and from Portugal to the Gulf of Guinea in the eastern Atlantic. This species may also occur in the Mediterranean Sea. In the Indo-Pacific, this shark inhabits waters from the Red Sea and East Africa to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and the Tuamoto Islands. In the eastern Pacific, the distribution of the oceanic whitetip shark includes areas around southern California in the United States and south to Peru, including around the Galapagos Islands (2) (3).

This shark is an oceanic, epipelagic species that is found mainly in offshore, tropical and warm-temperate waters (6). On occasion individuals are seen in shallower waters near land, especially around oceanic islands(3). This species is found at depths of up to 150 metres (2).

The diet of the oceanic whitetip shark primarily consists of bony fishes such as tuna and mackerel, but also includes stingrays, sea turtles, sea birds, squid, crustaceans and mammalian carrion (3). The species is usually solitary, but individuals occasionally congregate in groups during ‘feeding frenzies’ in areas where food is plentiful (4), such as around whale carcasses (7). When many different species of shark are involved in a ‘feeding frenzy’, the oceanic whitetip shark usually dominates and may be aggressive towards the other species (3) (4). This shark is often accompanied by remoras (Echeneidae species), dolphinfish (Coryphaena species) and pilot fish (Naucrates doctor), and reportedly demonstrates an unusual association with the shortfin pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) in Hawaiian waters (2) (3). Although the exact reason for this shark swimming along with pods of pilot whales is unknown, it is thought that oceanic whitetip sharks are following them to sources of squid, which the pilot whales are extremely efficient at locating (3).

The oceanic whitetip shark mates during the early summer in the north-western Atlantic and the south-western Indian Ocean, and females give birth to between 1 and 15 live young (3) (6) after a gestation period of 10 to 12 months (1). As a viviparous redproducer, the oceanic whitetip shark gives birth to live young born that are nourished throughout the gestation period by a placental yolk-sac. Sexual maturity in both the male and female is attained at the age of six or seven (3).

The oceanic whitetip shark suffers from fishing pressure throughout most of its range, with large numbers being caught as bycatch by tuna and other pelagic fisheries (1) (3). The shark’s large fins are highly prized in international trade and are sold in Asia to make the delicacy shark-fin soup. Often, the fins will be removed at sea and remainder of the carcass is discarded. Although it is classified as Vulnerable, this species has been assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN in the north-western and central Atlantic Ocean due to decreases in reported catch quantities that indicate significant population declines. However, the fishing of this species in other areas is inadequately monitored, and there is insufficient data to asses the real impact fisheries are having on the population size (1).

Efforts are currently being made to collect essential data on population declines from regions where demographic trends are poorly understood. While the information gained will help to guide future conservation measures, truly effective conservation and management will depend upon international cooperation, and acceptance of a collective responsibility to help protect the magnificent oceanic whitetip shark (1).

For more information on the oceanic whitetip shark see:

For further information on the conservation of sharks and rays see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2007)
  2. FishBase (May, 2006)
  3. Florida Museum of Natural History: Ichthyology (May, 2006)
  4. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2006)
  5. Marine Themes: The world's largest marine wildlife image database (May, 2006)
  6. Shark Foundation (May, 2006)
  7. The Elasmodiver: Shark and Ray Field Guide (May, 2006)