Caribbean Reef shark
A tropical celebrity showing sharks and humans can safely interact
The Caribbean Reef shark (Carcharhinus perezii) is a species of requiem shark, belonging to the family Carcharhinidae. It is found in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil and is the most commonly encountered reef shark in the Caribbean Sea. Caribbean Reef sharks are cooperative pack hunters. The Caribbean Reef shark frequently rests motionless on the sea floor in caves. See our video here and watch Caribbean Reef sharks in action!
Photo: © 2018, Harry Stone, Planet Shark Divers, all rights reserved.
Family: Carcharhinidae – Requiem sharks
Common Name– Ground Sharks
Common Name– Requiem Sharks
Status: IUCN Red List NEAR THREATENED
Average Size and Length: The Caribbean Reef shark usually measures 6.6–8.2 feet long. The maximum recorded length is 9.8 Feet.
Average Weight: The maximum recorded weight of a Caribbean Reef shark is 150 pounds.
Teeth and Jaw: There are 11–13 tooth rows in either half of both jaws. The teeth have broad bases, serrated edges, and narrow cusps; the front 2–4 teeth on each side are erect and the others increasingly oblique.
Head: The Caribbean Reef shark has a round, short broad snout. It has skin flaps over the nostrils. The eyes are circular and large with nictitating membranes.
Denticles: The dermal denticles are closely spaced and overlapping, each with 5 (sometimes 7 in large sharks) horizontal low ridges leading to marginal teeth.
Demographic, Distribution, Habitat, Environment and Range: The Caribbean Reef shark can be found here in Jupiter frequently (however, it is rarely seen north of the Florida Keys), we see them naturally on reef dives specific here in Jupiter. In the Bahamas, we see them frequently. Check out our videos to watch them in action!
The Caribbean Reef shark can be found throughout the tropical western Atlantic Ocean, from North Carolina in the north to Brazil in the south, including Bermuda, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. It prefers shallow waters on or around coral reefs, and is commonly found near the drop-offs at the reefs’ outer edges. It is most common in water shallower than 98 feet, but has been known to dive to 1,240 feet. It is bottom-dwelling, and can remain motionless on the bottom of the ocean floor.
Diet: The Caribbean Reef shark feeds on a wide variety of reef-dwelling bony fishes and cephalopods, as well as some elasmobranchs such as Yellow stingrays and Eagle rays.
Young Caribbean Reef sharks feed on small fishes, shrimps, and crabs. Caribbean reef sharks are capable of everting their stomachs, which likely serves to cleanse indigestible particles, parasites, and mucus from the stomach lining.
Juvenile Caribbean reef sharks are preyed upon by larger sharks like Tiger or Bull sharks.
Aesthetic Identification: The Caribbean Reef shark has a streamlined shape with a heavy body. The five pairs of gill slits are moderately long, with the third gill slit over the origin of the pectoral fins. It is dark gray or gray-brown above and counter-shaded white or white-yellow below, with an inconspicuous white band on the flanks. The fins are not prominently marked, and the undersides of the paired fins, the anal fin, and the lower lobe of the caudal fin are dusky.
The first dorsal fin of the Caribbean Reef shark is high and falcate. There is a low interdorsal ridge running behind it to the second dorsal fin, which is large with a short free rear tip. The origin of the first dorsal fin lies over or slightly forward of the free rear tips of the pectoral fins, and that of the second dorsal fin lies over or slightly forward of the anal fin. The pectoral fins are long and narrow, tapering to a point.
Biology and Reproduction: There are very few parasites known to reside on the Caribbean Reef shark. One known is a dark variegated leech often seen trailing from its first dorsal fin.
Off northern Brazil, juveniles seek out cleaning stations occupied by Yellownose gobies which clean the sharks of parasites while they lie still on the bottom.
Horse-Eye and Bar jacks and bar jacks are known to school around Caribbean Reef sharks.
The Caribbean Reef shark is viviparous. Research suggests that mating is aggressive. Females can be found with bite wounds and scars on their sides.
The average litter size is 4 to 6, with a gestation period of one year. Females become pregnant every other year. The newborns measure no more than 29 inches long; males mature sexually at 59–67 inches long and females at 79–118 inches.
Behavioral Traits, Sensing and Intelligence: Research suggest that the Caribbean Reef shark displays threat warning signals prior to an attack, just like the Grey Reef shark. Some of these include over-exaggerated head swings that are well out of the normal path and may turn upward yielding a weaving or spiraling pattern in the shark’s path. They may also display sharp, quick movements or turns that increase in number. They may arch their backs. They may also lower one or both pectoral fins with trailing edges directed to the rear. Watch our video here.
The Caribbean Reef shark is attracted to low frequency sounds, instinctively could be that of a fish undergoing struggle.
Caribbean Reef sharks are more active at night, with no evidence of seasonal changes in activity or migration. Juveniles tend to remain in a localized area throughout the year, while adults’ range over a wider area.
Caribbean Reef sharks also have the ability to rest motionless on the bottom of the sea floor of inside caves.
Caribbean Reef sharks are cooperative pack hunters.
Caribbean Reef Shark Future and Conservation: The Caribbean Reef shark is threatened by overfishing. They are protected in the Bahamas, and prohibited to fish commercially in the United States. However, the Caribbean Reef shark is threatened by the destruction and deprivation of coral reefs.
Some US$6,000,000 is spent annually on shark viewing in the Bahamas, where at some sites a single living Caribbean reef shark has a value between US$13,000 and US$40,000.
Caribbean Reef Shark Recorded Attacks on Humans: Another danger posed to humans by the Caribbean reef shark involves the accumulation of toxins in the flesh of the shark, including toxic levels of mercury and other heavy metals. Here in Florida, sharks have higher MeHg levels than FDA guidelines.
Normally shy or indifferent to the presence of divers, the Caribbean reef shark has been known to become aggressive in the presence of food and grows sufficiently large to be considered potentially dangerous. As of 2008, the ISAF lists 27 attacks attributable to this species, 4 of them unprovoked, and none fatal.