White Tips Galore

A white tip shark in Tubbataha
A white tip shark in Tubbataha

The Whitetip Reef Shark  (Triaenodon Obesusis ) is  one of the most frequent sharks in the Indo-Pacific.  This species is easily spotted due to its curious, irregular, and waving swimming style and of course, the white tip on its dorsal fins.  Sharks are not a common sight as you go down the  depths, their dwellings are likely in reefs  remote and undisturbed. My sightings were few and I feel blessed I had the opportunity for such encounters with them.

I found bunch of juvenile white tips in Apo Reefs in the shallows, astounding as it was.  Actually, it was magical!  And when we explored Tubbataha, we had a dose of it everyday.  It felt like it was ordinary tropical fishes wading everywhere, but still we kept our distance from them.  Lately, we had wonderful sighting of the species in a cave at Gato Island, Malapascua. It was incredible, we do not expect such wonderful scene.  But they were all there, swimming coyly all five of them in the dark, unsuspecting that five earthlings were watching them in the corners of the cave!  It was mesmerizing…

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White tips swimming coyly in a cave at Gato Island

Many people would cringe at mere mention of sharks being perceived as harmful. Yet sharks including white tips are interesting creatures which hardly would harm human beings unless threatened.  Here are few interesting  facts about Whitetips:

  1. This amazing fish is a very slim species.  At most, it grows to about 2.5 meters (8 feet) and weighs up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds). With its slender shape, grey complexion and pronounced gills, this creature of the sea is hard to miss.
  2. This species is found all across the Indo-Pacific region. It is found almost exclusively in coral reef habitats along the coral heads and ledges. Sometimes they can be seen near sandy flats, in lagoons, or near deep drop offs. The preferred depth is 8 to 40 meters (26 to 130ft) making this a shallow swimmer.
  3. Since this is a slow species compared to others, they prefer to hunt at night when most sea animals are sleeping. They prefer eels, crustaceans, octopus, lobsters, and crabs.
  4. The Whitetip Reef is a very social fish. They often lay on the ground in large groups. Many divers who see this phenomenon say it looks like a bunch of logs lined up side by side. This generally is not a territorial species, although they often spend many months in the same area.
  5. Since they are Viviparous, eggs are held in the placenta of the female fish until birth. Females are usually pursued by males for an extended period of time, at which point, the males will initiate contact by grasping the pectoral fin and maneuvering the two of them into proper position. Females give birth to 1 to 6 pups at a time and pregnancy lasts for 10 to 13 months.
  6. The Whitetip Reef Shark population has decreased over the years, even though they are toxic for human consumption. Due to their slow reproduction rate, late age maturity, and limited habitat, any human interference has large effects. So even though low levels of Whitetip Reef fishing are occurring, it is enough to dwindle the population and rate them as “Near Threatened”.
  7. Their threat to humans is minimal. This is a relatively harmless species but can spook swimmers and divers. They frequently swim close by to inspect swimmers but rarely pose any problems. Most bites occur from spear fishers getting bitten when the Whitetip Shark goes after their bait.

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