The whitetip reef shark – also referred to as the blunthead shark – is quite sluggish compared to other species within the Triaenodon family and they are small to medium in size. Unlike the blacktip shark, which have black marks on the end of their fins, the whitetip have white marks. They have a noticeably slender body with a grey to brownish upperside and a white or greyish underside.
During the day, many sharks crowd into caves, usually stacking themselves on top of each other. Whitetips normally return to the same cave or crevice every day, sometimes for years. During the dark hours of night or under calm waters, however, they hunt smaller reef inhabitants that are hidden within the coral.
The plentiful supply of food in Galapagos means the whitetip reef shark is a docile creature and in spite of their fear towards humans, they show little evidence of aggression.
This species is among the few sharks that have been observed mating in the wild and their successful reproduction allows from one to five sharks to be born at around half a metre long. The young are born large enough to be independent and to hide from other species of sharks.
Where to see them: Whitetip reef sharks are one of the most abundant Galapagos reef sharks. They can be seen from the surface down to over 300 metres under the ocean. Although they prefer shallower water and are rarely seen deeper than 40 metres, they occasionally venture into open water from the reef. The species is usually seen throughout the whole Archipelago, but most frequently are spotted around North Seymour, Champion and Gardner islets, and northern Isabela island.
When to see them: This shark is active at all times of the year and they are very hard to miss!
Threats: Whitetip shark populations are declining quite rapidly outside of the Galapagos Islands. They live in shallow water in a restricted habitat where fishers can catch them easily using gill nets and longlines, though in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), they are protected from fishing. Whitetips do not have any natural predators within the Archipelago.
Conservation action: We have already played a substantial part in supporting the creation of a shark sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf islands. Our Endangered Sharks of Galapagos programme aims to increase the protection for sharks, such as whitetips, throughout their lifetimes. Through drone and capture-recapture surveys at key locations, we will map all shark nursery grounds, which will inform plans to minimise the impact of human activities on the sharks and their pups. We also want to the world’s first protected ‘swimway’ between Galapagos and Coco Island in Costa Rica, which will allow endangered sharks to safely travel through the Eastern Tropical Pacific.