The oceanic white tip shark is an animal that reenters among the more dangerous five kinds of shark for the man and also recently (December 2010) it seems to be the responsible of serious attacks, one of which unfortunately deadly, towards swimmers in the waters of the tourist place Sharm el Sheikh. Shortly returning to these episodes, the sharks authors of the accidents would be one or two Carcharhinuses longimanus and a mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), also inserted among the five most dangerous sharks for the man. 

The events are surely unusual, the series of attacks that happened in few days in the waters of Sharm el Sheikh doesn't have precedents in those zones, but perhaps also the probable causes that instigated the predatory instinct of these fishes don't even have precedents.. In fact hundred carcasses of animals were present throws the sea in that period and the greater tendency to attract the sharks with pastures and dying fishes, assuring so to the scuba divers meetings and strong emotions, made approach also the oceanic white tip shark, normally present in deep waters and not close to the coasts.. 

Returning to the description of the Carcharhinus longimanus, we confirm, as already mentioned, that this animal is normally met in waters distant from the coasts, from the middle depth of 150 m and only occasionally is near to the continental reefs. (it is mostly present instead around the insular reefs) 

This shark, that can reach the four meters of length, swims in all the tropical and sub-tropical seas of the world and is easily recognizable for some very particular physical characteristics. The body is thick, mighty, with the first dorsal fin and the pectoral fins very great, rounds off to the extremities and with a showy white stain. Also the ventral fins and the extremities superior and inferior of the caudal fin have a recognizable stain of white color.

The face of the oceanic white tip shark is rounded off and the eyes relatively great. The coloration, in the adult samples present in the ocean Pacific, is near to the grey one while the present populations in the Red Sea extend more to the brown one. The abdomen always has a clearer coloration, almost white. (in the young people can be present small black stains on the fins) 

These animals are solitary and are rarely sighted more samples of the same kind into close contact.

During the day the oceanic white tip shark swims under the surface of the water, with the dorsal fin that often escapes and the movements are slow, but this tendency never has to be underestimated becouse this shark is able of mighty and immediate releases, both of defensive and offensive nature. This shark is often accompanied by an elevated number of pilot fishes (Naucrates ductor) that, despite their name, don't have the assignment to drive the shark, but they are fishes that follow the shark to take advantage of some possible residue of food of his meals and perhaps to free him from some types of parasites. (we have however to remember that some imprudent pilot fish, perhaps too much sure of his "untouchable condition", has sadly been seen to finish in the mouth of this shark) 

The Carcharhinus longimanus is defined a curious shark, persistent, dominant and even aggressive when it competes for the food, above all if in the proximities it is present also the Carcharhinus falciformis and sometimes show "nervous behaviors" when it draws near to scuba divers. (the oceanic white tip shark together with the Carcharhinus falciformis and Prionace glauca, are the more diffused three kinds of sharks in pelagic waters, deep and distant from the coasts)
Its preys are very various: fishes, sea turtle, sea birds, squids, gastropods, shellfishes, carcasses of sea mammals and rays. 

This shark is often seen to swim in the proximities or even together with groups of pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus and Globicephala melas, mammalian sea belonging to the family of the Delphinidae) probably to take advantage of possible rests of food during the moments of hunting of these mighty mammals. The pilot whales, with their tonnage that can reach six meters length and three tons of weight are not seemed ever bothered by the presence of this shark. Is real the tendency of this shark not to estrange too much from groups of pilot whales, once sighted, probably not to lose the occasion of a good meal gotten with least efforts.. 

Despite his curiosity, tenacity and power, the oceanic white tip shark, considered the statistics that concern him, it is not so dangerous as could be thought, even if some attacks are certain to swimmers and toward boats. The Oceanographic Research Institute of Durban, in the South Africa, considers for example that this shark has been responsible of different deadly attacks during the sinking of the ship "Nova Scotia", during the second world war. 

We conclude these considerations on the oceanic white tip shark remembering however that every animal, dangerous or mild, curious or bashful, mighty or of small dimensions, great raider or harmless filtering animal, always have to be respected, admired but also feared, in a world where man is always the guest.. 



Carcharhinus longimanus
POEY, 1861
Order: Carcharhiniformes
Family: Carcharhinidae 

Middle dimensions: 180-200 cm
Maximum dimensions: can reach 400 cm
Distribution: in all the tropical and sub-tropical seas of the world. 

Coloration: bronzy-grey shark, white abdomen with a clean and irregular separation from that dorsal. This shark is easily recognizable from the thick and mighty body and from the pectoral fins, very great, rounded to the extremities and white coloured, always in the terminal part. The first dorsal fin is great, rounded and it finishes with a showy white stain. Also the ventral fins and the superior and inferior extremities of the caudal fin are recognizable for  white color. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin are grey dark bronze coloured. The face is rounded and the eyes are great. 

Reproduction: viviparous with yolk-sac placenta. 

Compare with the man: considered a very dangerous shark for the man.  

Commercial value: object of sporting and commercial fishing for the great fins. The populations of this shark seem to be decreased during the last years.  

Teeth: triangular and serrated to the borders. The teeth of the superior arcade are greater while those of the inferior arcade are more lengthened and narrow. 

Notes: very powerful, curious and tenacious shark, it normally swims in pelagic waters, from the surface up to around 180 m of depth. It rarely swims near to the continental reefs (close to the beaches) while it is being more frequent around insular reef. This shark is often surrounded by numerous Naucrates ductor (pilot fishes), it swims slowly, both during the day and during the night, but it is able of fast releases. The oceanic white tip shark eats bony fishes, cefalopods, gastropods, shellfishes, sea birds and races.
This shark is potentially very dangerous for the man and it is responsible  of a certain number of attacks in deep waters, away from the coasts, in case of castaways.


Bibliography: "Sharks & Rays, Elasmobranch Guide Of The World". Ralf M. Hennemann,
"Sharks of the world", Leonard Compagno, M. Dando, S. Fowler,
"Sharks", Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch.



Marco Angelozzi -

The oceanic white tip shark photographs were realized in the Red Sea by Mr. Ahmed Bijou and courtesy given for this article. Reproduction, even partial, of the text and photographs in
this article is absolutely prohibited, without the consent of the authors.