Reef sharks

Reef sharks inhabit tropical waters and lagoons near coral reefs. They are found in Indo-Pacific waters and the Caribbean. Like all sharks, reef sharks are efficient predators. They are at the apex of their food chains and are therefore an important indicator species for marine ecosystems as a whole.
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Grey reef (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) shark, Fiji.
© Cat Holloway / WWF-Canon

Key Facts

  • Length

    about 1.6 m (5.2 ft)

  • Status

    Near Threatened (IUCN)

  • Distribution

    Indo-Pacific and Caribbean

  • Family name

    Carcharhinidae

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Cruising the coral reefs

Reef sharks mainly feed on reef fish, squid, cephalopods, crab, lobster and shrimp. They have been observed herding fish against the reef face before attacking.

Reproduction

All reef sharks are viviparous - they give birth to live pups, with an average of 1-5 pups per litter. Gestation periods can be longer than 1 year, and the pups do not reach maturity until at least the age of 5.

What are the main threats to Reef sharks?

Slow reproduction rates and a limited habitat makes reef sharks particularlty vulnerable to both commercial and artisanal fishing. They are often caught as bycatch and discarded, making a true assessment of population status difficult.


 / ©: Brent Stirton / Getty Images
A white tip reef shark, Beqa lagoon, Fiji
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Priority species

Reef sharks are a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What is WWF doing?

  • WWF works to preserve the coral habitats where reef sharks live. It is involved in the development of many marine protected areas, and works towards the introduction of fishing bans to protect vulnerable species such as reef sharks.
  • WWF recognises that more value can be derived from reef sharks through diving tourism than fishing. It seeks to support local communities to set up appropriate ecotourism infrastructure.

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Did you know?

    • The Caribbean reef shark is known to rest motionless on the sea bottom or inside caves.
    • When threatened gray reef sharks display a distinctive hunched posture, bending their body into an "S" shape. They are known to be territorial and will warn off other shark species.
    • The white tip reef shark is nocturnal and is often seen resting on the bottom of the sea during the day, sometimes in small groups.
    • Cruising coastlines in large schools, blacktip reef sharks often jump out of the water during a feeding frenzy on schools of fish.

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