Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Scientific Name: Triaenodon Obesus
The Whitetip Reef Shark is the most common shark species found at the Galapagos Islands. If you ever wanted to snorkel with sharks, then these small, calm and often inquisitive creatures make for the perfect opportunity. They are also frequently spotted from land, in shallow waters, for those who prefer not to share the same water as a shark.
Read on to learn more about the Galapagos whitetip reef shark. Where and when can you see them at Galapagos? How to recognise them? Are they dangerous? Plus heaps of other interesting whitetip reef shark facts.
Galapagos visitors have and excellent chance to spot whitetip reef sharks. They typically hang-out in shallow waters, resting motionless on the sea floor for long periods of time during the day. They are a common sight around Galapagos coral reefs.
They can be seen right across the archipelago, at many Galapagos snorkel sites. One of the best spots to get up close to whitetip sharks is at Los Tuneles on Isabela island. This is one of our favorite snorkel sites at Galapagos, be sure to take an underwater camera with you!
For non-snorkelers check out Los Tintoreras, also on Isabela island. Here there is a narrow channel between two lava rocks where whitetip reef sharks love to hang out in the shade. They are sometimes visible in shallow pools next to the visitor trail. Also try to spot them from Puerto Ayora pier - they are often attracted here by the lights at night.
Both of these sites can easily be included into a great Galapagos Land Tour itinerary.
Whitetip reef sharks are present and active in Galapagos waters all year round.
For many visitors snorkeling with sharks is one of the very top Galapagos highlights. While we would all love to snorkel with hammerheads, you'll need luck to find them. Whitetip reef sharks meanwhile are far more common. Are whitetip reef sharks dangerous? Have no fear, they are curious, gentle creatures, and often approach swimmers close up. It is extremely unusual that they will ever show signs of aggression to humans. But of course snorkelers need to respect their personal space and treat them with respect.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS TOUR QUOTE, or for help in organising your own Galapagos Vacation to swim with Whitetip Reef Sharks.
Whitetip Reef Sharks are easily recognised by the tell-tale white tip on their first dorsal and upper caudal fins. They have dark coloring on their upper body, and lighter colours on the underside. This acts as perfect camouflage. When the shark is viewed from above, it blends in with the dark ocean depths. When viewed from below, it merges with the light of the sun and sky above.
In size whitetip reef sharks are small and slim. They rarely grow to longer than 5.2ft (1.6 meters).
White tip reef sharks can often be seen sitting motionless on the sea bed. They are able to pump water across their gills while lying still, allowing them to breathe in this position.
They like to loiter in caves or protected crevasses, hanging out in groups. Often they are content in the exact same spot month after month, like at Los Tintoreras, Isabela.
Whitetip reef shark reproductive behavior is also interesting. A single female Whitetip will often mate with as many as 5 males at a time. Reproduction is viviparous, that is, the embryo develops inside the mother who after 10-12 months gestation period gives birth to between 1 to 5 shark pups. Each pup is born at around half a metre in length - large enough to already hunt independently and hide from other predator shark species until they grow larger.
Whitetip reef sharks are skilled bottom-feeders, picking crustaceans, mollusks and octopus from the sea floor. They also love boney fish, which are plentiful in the Galapagos coral reefs. Their fish diet includes damselfish, surgeonfish, eels and parrotfish.
During the day White-tipped Reef Sharks are lazy and docile, but at night they transform into fierce and efficient hunters. They are not impressive swimmers in open water, but come to the fore maneouvering in tight spaces around reefs.
Like many shark species, White-tipped Reef Sharks are sensitive to vibrations. They sense struggling fish in nearby waters and hone in on their location to hunt. They also have large eyes, enabling them to see clearly in murky waters.
• Whitetip Reef Sharks do not have any natural predators within the Archipelago, yet they are listed as a Near Threatened species. Their populations worldwide are declining because they live in shallow waters, making an easy target for fishermen using gill-nets and longline techniques. Fortunately, in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) they are a protected species, keeping Galapagos populations stable.
• Male Whitetips have an interesting way of attracting the attention of female sharks – they literally bite them during courtship rituals. These “love bites” are often visible on the females’ neck and head, and seem to be an effective means of coupling.
• A Whitetip Reef Shark has a mouthful of small, sharp teeth that re-grow constantly. So over a lifetime a single shark may incredibly have grown tens of thousands of teeth!!
In conclusion, the Galapagos whitetip reef shark offers a wonderful opportunity to get up close to safe sharks. They will often approach snorkelers or divers out of curiosity. Yet, they are a very peaceful, non-aggressive species. They can sometimes even be spotted from the safety of the shore. So leave your fears at home, pack your snorkel gear, and jump in to get to know this beautiful Galapagos shark species.