Associated with the coral reef environment, the whitetip reef shark is found throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In the Hawaiian Islands, it can be observed resting in caves or under ledges for an extended period. It is the only shark in Hawaiian waters that has the ability to stop swimming and can rest for long periods at a time, making it more commonly observed by divers. These sharks are gray in coloration with a slightly flat-head with distinct white tips on the tops of the first and second dorsal and tail fins.
Whitetip reef sharks are active nocturnal predators with a diet that includes bony fish, crustaceans and octopus. With a gestation period of about 12 months, littler size will include anywhere from one to five pups. At birth, pups measure 1.7-19 feet in length and will obtain a maximum length of 5.6 feet as adults. On occasion, a whitetip might approach a diver out of curiosity but is not considered dangerous to humans.
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.
Sharks play a crucial role as apex predators in keeping marine ecosystems in balance and removing sick, injured and diseased animals. Therefore they are vital to having a clean and healthy ocean.
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 cultural consultant 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.