Described by divers as atypically bold and curious for sharks, oceanic whitetips are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas. Though they spend much of their time in the open ocean far from land, divers can see them in places like Cat Island, Bahamas. A 2012 research paper showed that while the sharks spend much of their time in the Bahamas, they migrate over vast distances; the maximum an individual shark swam before returning was just over 1,200 miles.
Although these sharks were once considered one of the most common large marine creatures on Earth, now they are among the most threatened. They are frequently caught as bycatch — particularly by open-ocean longline fisheries — and are prized in the shark-fin-soup trade because of their large fins. In 2013, oceanic whitetips were added to CITES Appendix II, which regulates international trade.
Facts About Oceanic Whitetips (Carcharhinus Longimanus):
Where to Find Them: Worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas, typically in the open ocean
Threat Level: Vulnerable globally, with some populations listed as Critically Endangered
Maximum Size: Up to 13 feet
» The tips of their fins are rounded, atypical for sharks.
» In 2004, a dead oceanic whitetip shark washed up on a beach in Sweden, far outside their known range.
David Shiffman is a Ph.D. student at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, where he studies shark ecology and conservation. Shiffman is happy to answer any questions you have about sharks on Twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or Facebook (facebook.com/WhySharksMatter).