The Caribbean Reef Shark

The Caribbean reef shark is a fish species that is most commonly seen swimming the Caribbean sea, hence its name, along sea extensions ranging from the coast of Florida all the way down to Brazil. The Caribbean reef shark is one of the largest apex predators in the Caribbean reef habitat. It feeds on a great number of fish and cephalopods. Female Caribbean sharks usually give birth to four to six calves each year. Caribbean reef sharks have been used as a source of for food processing, liver oil and leather, among fisheries. Although the Caribbean reef shark has attacked humans, it is widely used as a tourist attraction in various touristic points along the Caribbean.

Habitat

The Caribbean reef shark is known to inhabit the ocean waters along the tropical regions of the western Atlantic Ocean, covering the coastal waters of the Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Brazilian coasts. It usually swims in shallow waters either on or at the edges of coral reefs. He Caribbean reef shark is most commonly found in depths lesser than 30 meters (98 ft.); however, it can swim in profounder waters of up to 370 meters (1200 ft.) in depth. Caribbean reef sharks are more active at night, and often rest motionless on the sea floor or ocean caves. If threatened, they may swim rapidly changing direction and dropping their fins.

Description

The Caribbean reef shark grows to about 2-2.5 meters (6.5-8 ft.) long; however, some of the largest sharks from these species may reach 3 meters (10 ft.) in length. The maximum recorded weight of any Caribbean reef shark is of approximately 70 kilograms (154 pounds). Their color ranges from gray to gray-brown in the upper side of their body to white or white-yellow in the underside, and a not easily seen white band on the sides. The undersides of the anal, caudal and pectoral fins are darkish. Their jaws contain 11-13 rows of teeth on either side. They have five gills on either side just above the pectoral fins. The snout is broad and rounded.

Feeding

The Caribbean reef shark feeds on a wide variety of reef-inhabiting fish and cephalopods, as well as yellow stingrays and eagle rays. Their hunting skills include detecting low-frequency sounds, indicating that a prey is having struggle. Young reef sharks usually feed on small fish, shrimps and crabs. They are some of the largest apex predators, meaning they’re on top of the food chain, in the reef environment. Caribbean reef sharks possess the ability of exerting (throwing up) their stomachs, which allow them to clean their stomach from parasites, mucus and indigestible substances.

Human interaction

Caribbean reef sharks are known for their indifference to the presence of divers; however, they may become aggressive in the presence of food. Shark feeds have attracted the attention of tourists wanting to see how divers using bait attract a number of reef sharks. This practice has raised concerns on the dangers that sharks may associate humans with food, increasing the chances of shark attack; however, proponents of this practice say that shark feeds contribute to shark conservation and knowledge about them. Shark feeding has been prohibited off the coast of Florida, but the practice continues in other regions of the Caribbean.

The Caribbean reef shark predators include the tiger shark, and the bull shark. As late as 2008, Caribbean reef sharks have attacked humans 27 times, four of them with no apparent reason, although none of these attacks have been fatal. The population of the reef shark has decreased in some regions of the Caribbean from overfishing. They are protected in the Bahamas due to their importance in ecotourism; however, their exploitation continues from fisheries in other territories. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the Caribbean reef shark as an endangered species.