Shark Series: Diving with Blacktip Reef Sharks

Shark Series: Diving with Blacktip Reef Sharks
Dray van Beeck

The black tipped reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) is a favorite among many divers.

It is of reasonable size, lives in warm, shallow, tropical waters, usually stays within the same quite small area, and isn’t overly shy.

It is also easy to recognize, and quite photogenic.

Generally considered a “safe” shark, and one of the most abundant in the IndoPacific, this is the shark that many divers see as their first ever shark sighting.

Shark Series: The Great White Shark


The blacktip reef shark is easily recognized by the black tips on its fins, in particular on the dorsal and caudal fins, as well a white strip along its side on some individuals.

It has streamlined body, moderately rounded snout, and ovalshaped eyes. Fins are comparatively large for the shark’s size.

Adults typically grow to about 1 to 1.5 meters, though some reports indicate that they may grow to as much as two meters. They can weigh as much as 14 kg.

Shark Series: The Thresher Shark

The absence of a swimblatter means that this shark exhibits the famous trait of sharks; it cannot stop swimming, or it will simply sink. It is one of the relatively few species of sharks that do well in captivity and because of this, often seen on display in aquariums around the world.

A blacktip reef shark in shallow waters with butterfly fish
A blacktip reef shark in shallow waters with butterfly fish
Photo by: Ethan Daniels

Where to see it

The shark is typically found in relatively shallow, tropical waters (surface to 75 meters) throughout the world, including the Red Sea, in the Indian Ocean, the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the waters around southeast Asia, India, Australia, and the Pacific tropical Islands, including Hawaii.

It prefers inshore waters, and has a relatively small territory, which it is quite loyal to. This makes it a dive center favorite as the above characteristics increases sightings and the likelihood of diving with blacktip reef sharks on a regular basis.

Map of Blacktip Reef Shark sightings
Map of Blacktip Reef Shark sightings

Best times to see it

Typically best sighted in the warmer months throughout the areas it inhabits, it is mostly the local dive season that determines sightings, more than the shark’s migratory habits.

Typically spotted more often on morning dives than dives later in the day. While it is not an extremely shy shark, the chances of spotting one, as with other sharks, increases by travelling in small groups and keeping disturbances to a minimum.

Shark Series: The Tiger shark

Interaction with humans

The blacktip reef shark lives in habitats that are often shared by humans, but in spite of this, reports of attacks are very rare.

However, it is still considered potentially dangerous, due to frequent contact with humans, and general precautions should be taken. It will sometimes come quite close to divers, in which case the diver should remain calm and avoid sudden movements.

That being said, this is probably one of the safest sharks to encounter.

Blacktip Reef Shark swimming over reef, with hooker divers in background.
Blacktip Reef Shark swimming over reef, with hooker divers in background.
Photo by: Ian Scott

Conservation status

Generally sees healthy population in most of its habitats, though locally there has been significant decline in recent years. Unlike other sharks, this one isn’t commercially fished to any extensive degree.

The shark does reproduce quite slowly, with incubation times as high as up to 16 months, depending on water temperatures, increasing the population’s vulnerability. And in spite of not being targeted by commercial fishermen, it is sometimes caught as a bycatch.


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