Great Barrier Reef Region Guide

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Updated: 08-Feb-2007

Thanks to Hollywood and some shocking publicity, sharks are arguably some of the most feared creatures on the planet. In reality, sharks are the ones threatened in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and they play a vital role in the health of the Reef ecosystem.


If you see a shark while visiting the reef, consider yourself very lucky as sharks are not frequently encountered by visitors.  Of those which are seen the most commonly encountered are the white tip reef and black tip reef sharks.


Easily identified by the white markings on the tips of the dorsal fins, they are often found resting upon the sea floor.  Like most sharks white and black tip's are extremely timid and won't stay long around divers.


Blacktip reef shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus. This is a common shark on coral reefs with black-tipped fins. It can be easily recognised by its rounded snout, lemon-brown to grey back and very distinct black fin tips. It is generally seen swimming slowly around the reef flats and shallow lagoons with its dorsal (back) and tail fins sticking out of the water. A timid species, it tends to remain within a home range of a few km2. Its small size allows it to access areas unavailable to other sharks. (Up to 140 cm)


Whitetip reef shark, Triaenodon obesus. This common coral reef shark spends most of the day resting in caves or below ledges, and is active at night. Its home range is similar to the blacktip reef shark and it feeds on small fish and cephalopods. It has distinct white tips on its first dorsal fin and upper tail fin. It is often seen around island reef edges and about the coral beds at depths to forty metres. (Up to 170 cm)

Most sharks found on the reef are fish eaters and therefore pose no threat to visitors. Do not harass or block off a shark's exit as they may attack out of fear.

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