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Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Photo: Peter Collings |

Oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) are named most descriptively due to all of its rounded fin tips being white or showing mottled white patterns. They can grow to nearly 4 meters in length and are one of the most hunted sharks in the world.

Oceanic Whitetip shark anatomy and appearance

The Oceanic Whitetip has a stocky build with a short, bluntly rounded snout, incredibly powerful jaws and fins which are significantly larger than most other shark species. This aggressive but slow moving fish dominates feeding frenzies with its amazing teeth - on the lower jaw they are fang like, relatively small and triangular with a thin serrated tip, however the larger upper teeth are still triangular but broader with edges entirely serrated. It grips its prey with the sharp lower jaw and then uses the strong, upper serrated teeth to saw and slice the flesh. No wonder they are a danger to shipwreck and air crash survivors!

Depending on geographic location the body color may be brown, grey, beige or bronze, sometimes bluish, while the stomach is usually white with an occasional yellow tint. There may also be a dark, saddle shaped marking between the dorsal fins. They have circular eyes and belong to the family group which have nictitating membranes which help shield the eyes when they hunt and eat.

The female is typically larger than the male and young may have black fin tips until they grow to about 1.3 meters, after this, most grow to around 3 meters but the largest ever recorded was 4 meters.

Photo: Peter Collings |

Habitat and migration of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The Oceanic Whitetip is found globally in deep, open water, classed therefore as oceanic pelagic and do not congregate around land masses. They prefer warmer waters between 20 and 28 degrees centigrade, and as such will spend most of their time in the upper layer of the ocean, but are known to swim for extended periods at depths of about 150 meters. Whilst they usually stay at depths above 200 meters, a study in 2013 tagging female Oceanic Whitetips in the Bahamas showed them diving to depths of up to 1000 meters. It is as yet unclear as to why they do this but it is suspected to be a feeding behavior related to hunting squid.

They were once extremely common and widely distributed but numbers have drastically declined over the past years. They can be found from Maine, U.S., south of Argentina in the Western Atlantic Ocean, including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and from Portugal to the Gulf of Guinea, in the Eastern Atlantic, possibly including the Mediterranean. In the Indo-Pacific, this shark inhabits waters from the Red Sea and East Africa to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and the Tuamoto Islands. In the Eastern pacific the distribution includes waters from southern California, U.S., south of Peru, including the Galapagos. Whilst they are widespread, they are not common and the only place left where regular sightings a