We’re liking the color “grey” lately. Specifically, the grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). Side note: Sometimes that last part is misspelled.
And, of course, they have a number of common names: “bronze whaler,” “grey shark,” “grey whaler shark,” “longnose blacktail shark,” “shortnose blacktail shark” (which, um, hello, don’t those two contradict each other) and “Fowler’s whaler shark” are a few that come to mind.
Also to keep in mind: these names can apply to other shark species. Confused, much? Welcome to science, where the complicated things are. (That should be its slogan.)
These sharks are pretty common in the Indo-Pacific, being found anywhere from Easter Island all the way to South Africa. They’re often seen patrolling shallow watered reefs that drop off into the… twilight zone.
Nah, they just drop off. (Please don't get nightmares of the abyss, now)
Anyway… grey reef sharks have a broad, rounded snout with large eyes, and are grey/blue on top with a white underbelly. Their first dorsal fin may be white on the edges, while other tips are darkened. I say “may” because individuals in the west Indian Ocean and a few in the Pacific… well, don’t. However, all grey reef sharks lack a ridge between the dorsal fins and are on the smaller side (with most being smaller than 2 m or 6.2 ft long).
Y’all remember William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the line, “Though she be but little, she is fierce”? That applies to grey reef sharks (he clearly had them in mind when penning that). They can be aggressive when it comes to hunting, despite their small-ish size, and are one of the sharks known to have threat displays. They have a home territory, too.
During the day they usually socialize in large groups… it isn’t until night fall that they split up… to hunt. Like any other reef shark, they are fast-swimming, feeding on fish as well as cephalopods (yum).
They are active all parts of the day, with peak activity occurring at night (see previous bit on hunting at night). And, as mentioned before, they are pretty social and rarely territorial. They are quite curious, usually checking divers out before getting bored and moving on (sort of like a cat… with sandpaper skin and lots of sharp teeth).
They are viviparous, and give birth to 1-6 pups every other year. Keeping this in mind, they are caught by many fisheries and can have their populations depleted due to this. They are also caught for their fins and used as fishmeal. Due to all of this, the IUCN has declared this species as Near Threatened (NC).
have you met these sharks on a dive before?
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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