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 Northwestern 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 their caudal fin.
Most of their diet consists of bony fish, but they also feed upon octopus, squid, and crustaceans. Like all species found in Hawaiian waters, gray reef sharks give live birth and have an 11-12 months gestation period. Their litter size can range from 3-6 pups, and pups are born ranging from 20 to 24 inches in length. Attaining lengths of up to 7 feet at maturity with 5 feet in length as average size, this species can be territorial and aggressive. They can display a threat posture when feeling intimidated, where they point their pectoral fin down and arch their back.
Gray reef sharks are important apex predators who keep a balance in our reef ecosystems and remove sick, diseased, and dead animals from the population. Unfortunately, gray reef sharks are listed as near threatened (NT) due to commercial fishing for human consumption, fishmeal, and other shark products.
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 are called ampullae of Lorenzini and detect electrical signals 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.
In ancient Hawai‘i, sharks were worshipped, cared for, and protected as an ‘aumakua, or family deities while others viewed sharks as an important source for food and tools. Those who had the shark as their ‘aumakua wouldn’t hunt or eat sharks. They believed their departed ancestors took the form of a shark, and 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 for a fascinating read. 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, we cannot guarantee the presence of any specific animal.