The gray reef shark is commonly found in coastal regions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, near reefs neighboring oceanic waters. In Hawai‘i, the gray reef shark is most abundant in the Northwester Hawaiian Islands and tends to prefer reefs areas with rugged terrain and strong currents. Gray reef sharks are all gray or tan in coloration with a distinct black margin on the trailing edge of the caudal fin.
Most of its diet consists of bony fish, but also feeds upon on octopus, squid and crustaceans. Like all species found in Hawaiian waters, gray reef sharks give live birth with a gestation period of 11-12 months. The litter size can range from 3-6 pups; pups are born 20-24 inches in length. Attaining lengths of up to 7 feet, 5 feet average, this species can be territorial and aggressive. It displays a threat posture where its pectoral fins point down and its back is arched.
Elasmobranch species, which include sharks, rays and skates have the ability to detect electromagnetic signals coming from muscle movements of other organisms. A concentration of pores near the nostrils, around the head and on the underside of the snout called ampullae of Lorenzini detect electrical signal given off by living organisms. When light is scarce in murky water or at depths and vision is impaired, this sixth sense is useful in locating prey. In some species, electroreception is also used as a compass during migration.
Gray reef sharks are important apex predators keeping a balance in our reefs ecosystems and removing sick, diseased and dead animals from the population. Unfortunately, gray reef sharks are listed Near Threatened (NT) due to commercial fishing for human consumption, fishmeal and other shark products.
In Hawai‘i, sharks were worshipped, cared for and protected as an ‘aumakua, or family deity while others viewed sharks as an important source of food and tools. Those who had the shark as their ‘aumakua wouldn’t hunt or eat shark. They believed their departed ancestors took the form of a shark, therefore would feed and protect the shark and in return the shark would protect the family. Shark stories are very frequent in Hawaiian literature and make a fascinating read. As Hawaiian cultural advisor to the Maui Ocean Center, Kahu Dane Maxwell blesses each shark that enters or leaves the park.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, the presence of any specific animal cannot be guaranteed.