The grey reef shark occupies a widespread range from the eastern Pacific Ocean (Costa Rica) through the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in the Red Sea. Grey reef sharks are most commonly encountered off the islands of Tahiti, Micronesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia. (Murphy, 1993)
Grey reef sharks have sleek, fusiform bodies that are unmistakable for anything but a shark. Key physical features include the anal fin, five gill slits, and a mouth positioned behind the eyes and underneath the snout. Additionally, grey reef sharks appear grey from a distance, but show a bronze tint when viewed up close. They have a white underside and are distinguished by a broad black band on the edge of the tail and black markings on the tips of the pectoral fins. The dorsal fin is either grey or tipped white. They have a long, broadly rounded snout and round eyes. They are lacking an interdorsal fin. (Murphy, 1993)
Males grow up to 255 cm in length, and are 130-145 cm long at maturity, while females are a bit smaller, maturing at 120-135 cm, with a record length of 172 cm. Males are distinguished by the elongate mating claspers on their pelvic fins. The maximum published weight for an individual of this species is 33.7 kg, but large males may be heavier. (Compagno, 1984; Fishbase, 2003; Godknecht, 2004; Murphy, 1993)
Grey reef sharks can be easily mistaken for similar species of requiem sharks. The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) and the blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) can be distinguised by a black tip on the dorsal fin, while the dorsal fin of C. amblyrhynchos is white or grey. Similarly, the silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) has white tips on its pectoral and caudal fins, while C. amblyrhynchos does not. (Godknecht, 2004)
The species is viviparous, meaning that its embryos are connected to a placenta-like yolk sac, and the young are born alive and free-swimming, not in an egg. Females give birth to live young, usually sized between 46 and 60 cm. Males mature at a length of 130-145 cm, and females at 122-137 cm. (Perrine, 1995)
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos mate through internal fertilization. When a female is ready to mate, she will give off behavioral and chemical cues (pheromones). When the male senses these cues, he pursues her and seizes her with his teeth, which can actually cause serious wounds. Females have thicker skin on their backs than males do, probably to protect them from male biting.
As in all sharks, male gray reef sharks have paired reproductive structures called "claspers," located between the pelvic fins. A groove in each clasper directs sperm into the female's cloaca during mating. Sperm may fertilize the egg then, or may be stored until an egg is released.
Females produce 1-6 offspring at a time, and the embryos gestate for about 12 months before birth.
The longest known lifespan for a wild grey reef shark is 25 years, but we don't have much information on how long this species can live. (Compagno, 1984)
Gray reef sharks are social, maintaining daytime schools, but becoming more active nocturnally. This species usually swims slowly (about 0.5 mph), seemingly inactive. However, because of its extremely sensitive perception channels, it is always constantly aware of its surroundings. When food is near or tasted, this species will speed up and become more active very quickly. Additionally, when it feels the vibrations of a fish dying it becomes highly aggressive. These sharks can be territorial. They have a very distinct agonistic display that they make to other sharks, and sometimes to human divers. A displaying shark will arch its back, point its pectoral fins completely downwards, and swing its head laterally in a slow pendulum-like motion as it swims. (Murphy, 1993; Perrine, 1995)
No home range size has been specified. However, C. amblyrhynchos have been known to act aggressively towards other predatory sharks of similar size.
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos perceives its environment very much through its excellent sense of smell. It can detect very low concentrations of blood by swinging its head side to side and using both nostrils to sample the water. All of its senses are acute. Its vision is sensitive to blue-green and low light because there are many rod cells in the retina. These sharks are generally thought to be far-sighted, but they can hunt by starlight. Grey reef sharks "hear" by detecting sounds through vibrations using sensory pits called the lateral line system. They have inner-ear semicircular canals used for balance, motion, and vibration. Most unique is its electromagnetic sense. This is facilitated by pores known as "ampullae of Lorenzini" that are concentrated around the snout. As sharks move through the earth's magnetic field, they create an electric field. By sensing this field, they can detect the strength and direction of it. This is the grey reef shark's navigation system.
These sharks communicate with other sharks visually (see the Behavior section for details of their territorial defense display) and by touch (see Mating Systems). (Perrine, 1995)
The primary diet of C. amblyrhynchos is bony reef fishes less than 30 cm long. It also eats squid, octopi, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. These sharks catch their food with their jaws and sharp teeth. When hunting, grey reef sharks have been observed swimming at speeds of up to 30 mph (48 km/h). (Compagno, 1984)
The risk of predation on Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos decreases as it grows, but some are still prey to larger sharks and Orca whales. Predation has been noted in the Marshall Islands by Carcharhinus albimarginatus. (Fishbase, 2003; Compagno, 1984)
Grey reef sharks are usually the top predators on coral reefs, controlling the fish populations under them.
Since grey reef sharks are generally a harmless and inquisitive species, studies are conducted on them quite easily. Ecotourism in the form of "shark diving" has also recently blossomed into a large industry. (Murphy, 1993)
Although usually considered harmless, C. amblyrhynchos may occasionally bite humans. The bites are serious, but rarely fatal. Accidents most often occur during spearfishing, when the sharks become aggressive in the presence of food. Careless divers who corner the animal in a reef canyon may also be attacked in self-defense. Additionally, there are areas of eastern Micronesia, particularly the Marshall Islands, where these sharks have a reputation for being aggressive toward humans.
While the grey reef shark has not been identified as endangered as of yet, depletion of the species has been noticed around the Maldive Islands, and may be occurring in other parts of its range. There are several aspects of the biology and behavior of this species that make it particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. It is found relatively near shore, individuals tend to stay in one area, and they gather in predictable locations, making them easier to catch. Females matures relatively slowly, and have small litters, which means slower population growth compared to other large fish. (Fishbase, 2003; Godknecht, 2004)
David Armitage (editor), Animal Diversity Web, Matt Wund (editor).
Jessie Christel (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.
uses sound to communicate
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
uses electric signals to communicate
union of egg and spermatozoan
having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
(as perception channel keyword). This animal has a special ability to detect the Earth's magnetic fields.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
active during the night
An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
an animal that mainly eats fish
structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.
mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.
uses touch to communicate
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
Aitken, K. 2002. "Grey Reef Shark" (On-line). Marine Themes Stock Photo Library. Accessed September 29, 2004 at http://www.marinethemes.com/greyreef.html.
Compagno, L. 1984. Sharks of the World. Rome: United Nations Development Programme.
Fishbase, 2003. "Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos Grey Reef Shark" (On-line). FishBase. Accessed September 29, 2004 at http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=861&genusname=Carcharhinus&speciesname=amblyrhynchos.
Godknecht, A. 2004. "Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos" (On-line). Shark Foundation Shark Database. Accessed September 29, 2004 at http://www.shark.ch/cgi-bin/Sharks/spec_conv.pl?E+Carcharhinus.amblyrhynchos.
Murphy, G. 1993. Grey Reef Shark. Skin Diver, v42 n11: 138.
Perrine, D. 1995. Sharks. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.