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Blacktip Reef Sharks

As you dreamily float in the warm turquoise waters of a coral reef, you can see the undulations of a stingray just below the sand, a squiggly maze of brain coral and a silvery flash of …  wait … was that a … SHARK?

Most likely. Blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) are common in the coral reefs and lagoons of the Indo-Pacific. Swift and sleek, their fins poke above the surface in an archetypically fearsome way. Even though they prefer shallow inshore waters, however, blacktips startle easily and tend to stay clear of humans.

Blacktip sharks can grow to 6 feet long and weigh around 30 pounds. At Shedd, they are typically between 4-5 feet long. As their name suggests, their fins look as if they’ve been dipped in tar. Unlike bony fish, which have a swim bladder to keep them from sinking, a blacktip's buoyancy is the result of a large liver with lots of fatty tissue. Like many open-ocean sharks, blackips are “obligate ram ventilators”: They have to swim 24-7 to breathe, literally ramming oxygen-rich water across their gills nonstop.

To eat, blacktips will encircle reef fish like kids around a broken piñata and attack the trapped prey. To see this feeding fiesta, visit Wild Reef and watch for an aquarist cueing the blacktips to their underwater dinner positions with a green-and-black striped rectangle.

 

Shark craft for kids

Kids can make their own paper crown with our new shark craft (PDF).

Photographing Sharks

Find out what it’s like to photograph the reef’s big predators.

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