Types of Sharks in the Red Sea
Red Sea Sharks have found themselves in the news again with yet another attack on a tourist. In the first week of December 2010, an elderly German lady died when a shark ripped her arm off in an unexpected attack in shallow waters.
This was the fifth shark attack of the week. Egyptian officials in the port of Sharm el-Sheikh played down the incident, blaming two rogue killer sharks, a shortfin mako and an Oceanic whitetip, both of which were caught and killed nearby.
But if truth be told, they might never find the culprit(s), and it unfair to label them 'killer sharks' because sharks seldom attack humans, and when they do it is entirely by accident.
Human remains don't taste good to sharks, plus we have too many bones (206 to be precise).
What does attract sharks are shiny objects, or even just moving objects in the water which they mistake for fish or something edible.
One bite is all it takes for the shark to learn of his mistake. Unfortunately that one bite can kill us. After biting, the shark retires to some distance away where he tries to decide whether or not to go back and finish what he started.
He will have tasted blood by now, and if he can calm down enough he might realise that it is human blood and certainly not a big fish whose blood is much saltier than ours.
Depending on how hungry/stupid he is, he may move in again for the kill, knowing his prey has been weakened, but in most cases of human attack he turns and swims away to deeper waters. Red Sea shark attacks are not as rare as we would like to believe.
The Red Sea
The Red Sea is teeming with sharks. Its warm salty waters are a haven for nursing sharks. A deep ravine runs the length of the Red Sea with depths of down to 1600 feet in places. Those make ideal breeding grounds for sharks.
A huge industry involving diving with sharks has grown up in the Red Sea in recent years. The warm waters are home to a host of tropical and colorful fish which divers have taken great pleasure in being able to photograph.
The oceanic whitetip shark is present in the Red Sea in huge numbers. Up until recently tourists were advised that they were reasonably safe and to treat them with nothing more than caution, but in actual fact the oceanic whitetip is arguably the most dangerous of all sharks.
Normally found in deep oceanic waters, the whitetip seldom ventures into shallow waters. Used as it is to the sparse feeding grounds of the deep waters, it is opportunistic when a food supply appears. While most sharks do indeed avoid human beings, the oceanic whitetip shows no such reluctance. It is a floating waste disposal unit- it will eat literally anything.
During World War II the oceanic whitetip was responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of US servicemen shipwrecked or shot down at sea. In one incident alone, the torpedoing of the USS Indeanapolis on the 30th of July, 1945 resulted in the loss of 600 to 800 US servicemen to oceanic whitetip sharks.
It was an oceanic whitetip shark who attacked and killed a French tourist in the Red Sea, who was on an official diving for sharks trip while on holiday at Marsa Alam, Egypt, on the 2nd of June 2009.
Oceanic whitetip sharks are fished largely for their fins which are sold as delicacies in Asian markets, and are now officially an endangered species.
It is really important for people to differentiate between the different types of sharks. Many sharks are vegetarians and killing them just because they are sharks is silly. Why would a plankton-eating shark be interested in a human being?
This list here gives a short description of every single type of shark to be found in the Red Sea.
Sharks as you may already know, are being fished to extinction in many cases. The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, have compiled a list of all known threatened species in world, and every shark is on it.
While I have only mentioned those that are "vulnerable" or "endangered" in the list below,the others all fall under the heading of "near threatened" which means their numbers have dropped so low that they are in danger of becoming actually "endangered".
Deep water sharks (Bathydemersal species)
Heptranchias perlo, Sharpnose sevengill shark, (Hexanchidae)
The Sharpnose shark is a deep water shark. Reaching only 4 feet in length (maximum) it is a vicious little thing when caught, but its size makes it manageable and unlikely to bite humans at sea.
It is recognisable by its seven pairs of gills slits as opposed to the usual five on other shark species.
Lago omanensis, Bigeye houndshark
Another deep water fish eating shark that only reaches about 2 feet in length. Recognisable by its size and Brown or grey dorsally, lighter below; dorsal and caudal fins may have darker tips and leading edges.
Mustelus manazo, Starspotted smooth-hound
LIving in deep waters, it is heavily fished for food where it is a delicacy in Chinese markets.
Red Sea Sharks
Sea-bed dwellers (Benthopelagic species)
Rhizoprionodon acutus, Milk Shark
The milk shark is another little shark, only measuring 3' 6" long maximum.
It has a long slender body, long pointy snout and big eyes, grey on top and white below.
Eats fish but harmless to humans because it has no teeth to speak of.
Oceanic whitetip sharks in the Red Sea
Sharks who live near the bottom or on continental shelves in shallow waters (Demersal species)
Alopias vulpinus, the Common Thresher Shark.
Can reach 20 feet in length, almost half of which consists of its elongated caudal fin. It uses its fin to whip its prey into oblivion before consuming it. Grey with white underbelly, streamlined body, short pointed snout. Feeds on small fishes and poses minimal danger to humans. Has small teeth despite its overall size.
Hemipristis elongatus, The snaggletooth shark.
With sharp, serrated teeth, the snaggletooth shark lacks prominent markings and is light grey or bronze in color. It can reach 8 feet long. It feeds off other sharks as well as rays, fish and cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish etc). Is suspected of being potentially dangerous to humans but there are no recorded attacks. Its species is officially listed as "vulnerable".
Mustelus mosis, The Arabian smooth-hound.
The arabian smooth-hound is a long game shark reaching up to 5 feet in length. They often feature a white tipped dorsal fin and their general coloring is grey or grey-brown on top. Adults feature a hard, bone-like growth in their snout. Unlike other smooth-hounds, the arabian smooth-hound shark does not feature spots. Feeds on small crustaceans and fish. Not a threat to humans. Is classified as a "highly vulnerable" species.
Ocean going sharks (Pelagic)
Alopias vulpinus, Thintail thresher
(see above) Very similar to the common thresher.
Chaenogaleus macrostoma, Hooktooth shark
This is a small shark that only grows to around 4 feet in length. Not much is known about this shark except that it is grey/bronze on top and white underneath. It is believed to eat smaller fish and crustaceans. It is certainly not a danger to humans, rather the other way round as it is being fished to extinction. Classed as "vulnerable".
Rhincodon typus, Whale shark
The whale shark is a huge, gentle giant. Reaching up to 40 feet in length, they are mainly plankton feeders although they have been filmed feeding off some small fish. Often divers have observed the whale shark being playful with them, and allowing them to swim alongside. They pose no danger whatsoever to humans, yet their species is now officially classed as "vulnerable" due to overfishing and finning.
Alopias pelagicus, Pelagic thresher
The smallest of the thresher sharks, the pelagic thresher measures up to 10 feet in length. It is distinguishable by its dark color over the bases of its pectoral fins. It has long tail fins that it uses to whip and stun fish for eating. While its normal habitat is the deep oceans it has been known to come close to shore in the Red Sea, near the reef shelves. The pelagic thresher is known for its deep and intense blue coloring which quickly fades to grey after death. It has never been implicated in a human attack or death and flees from divers. The species is "vulnerable".
Carcharhinus albimarginatus, Silvertip shark
The silvertip shark can grow in length to 6' 6". It feeds off other fish, crustaceans, rays, and other sharks. Its coloring is grey/green along its back, white underneath. It is identifiable from the white tips and borders on all its fins. Silvertip sharks are known for displaying threatening behaviour towards divers and for attacking when its warnings are ignored. It can give a nasty bite but no fatalities have been recorded. The species is deemed to be "vulnerable" by the IUCN.
Red Sea Sharks
Carcharhinus altimus, Bignose shark
The hooktooth shark can reach 10 feet in length and has a light grey back with white underside. It also has a white band on its side. It is rarely seen by humans as it prefers deep waters.
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, Grey reef shark
Grey reef sharks should be treated with caution by divers if they start to show a characteristic threat display. If they feel threatened, they hunch their fins and make sharp sideways motions. Any diver who ignores those warnings may end up being attacked. In this sense, the grey reef shark is dangerous but at least it gives a warning first. They grow to 6 feet long.
Carcharhinus brevipinna, Spinner shark
The spinner shark has a long streamlined body and pointed snout. It can grow up to 10 feet long. Schools of them have been known to hunt down fish shoals. They move very fast in the water. They are potentially dangerous to humans and there have been 17 recorded cases of them attacking humans, with no fatalities.
Carcharhinus falciformis, Silky shark
Slim and streamlined, the silky shark can reach 11 feet. A voracious feeder of all types of bony fish, it is also an occasional scavenger, feasting on dead whale or other mammal remains. Its habitat of deep waters means man rarely encounters it. However, it is potentially dangerous. There have been six recorded attacks but no fatalities. The silky shark is highly prized in Asian markets for it fins. Once one of the most common sharks of the oceans, its numbers are noticeably dwindling.
Carcharhinus leucas, Bull shark
The bull shark prefers warm shallow waters and river inlets, and is known for its aggressive behaviour. Bull sharks are large, stout and can grow up to 11.5 feet. They are extremely territorial, and do not like strangers entering their waters. One once attacked a racehorse in a shallow river. Considered extremely dangerous to humans. They eat everything and are cannibalistic, even eating each other. A pregnant bull shark frequently gives birth to only one pup, it having eaten its siblings in vitro. The bull shark is believed to have been behind the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, and was the inspiration for the Jaws novel by Peter Benchley.
Shark Encounter Red Sea
Carcharhinus limbatus, Blacktip shark
The blacktip shark has a stout, rounded body with black tips on all its fins and can reach 5 feet in length. Normally timid, it has been known to attack humans when excited by a feeding frenzy. It is responsible for 16% of all shark attacks off the Florida coast. While most wounds are minor due to its size, there has been at least one fatality.
Carcharhinus longimanus, Oceanic whitetip shark
The oceanic whitetip is noticeably larger than most sharks, and can reach a length of 13 feet. Seldom encountered in inshore waters, the oceanic whitetip is an extreme danger in open waters. It is opportunistic and will eat anything remotely edible, even whale feces. It has been responsible for possibly thousands of human deaths at sea owing to shipwreck or plane crashes. It has a following instinct, and has been known to follow ships at sea over huge distances. This earned it the name of "sea-dog" in centuries past. Equally they are known for following schools of tuna or squid.
Carcharhinus melanopterus, Blacktip reef shark
Common in the shallow waters of tropical reefs, the blacktip reef shark sports black tips on its fins with a typical shark shape. They are normally around 5 feet long but have reached 6.6 feet in length. Fish and crustacean feeders, they are timid of humans. It is better not to bathe where they are in case they mistake you for fish as they can give a nasty bite.
Carcharhinus obscurus, Dusky shark
The dusky shark can reach 14 feet long. It has a sickle shaped pectoral fins and a long streamlined body. It is considered to be potentially dangerous to humans, although few attacks have ever been reported. A voracious eater, it will eat anything in the ocean. Its species is classed as "vulnerable".
Carcharhinus plumbeus, Sandbar shark
The sandbar shark is common in shallow, coastal waters where it feeds off fish,crustaceans, cephalopods and other sharks that live on or near the sandy or muddy sea-bed. Reaching up to 10 feet in length, sandbar sharks are identifiable by their large dorsal fin. They are most active at dusk, night and dawn, preferring to sleep during the day. They have also been known to mistakenly attack humans.
Carcharhinus sorrah, Spottail shark
The spottail shark is a small shark only reaching about 4 feet in length. grey or grey-brown above, white underneath with golden-brown sheen between eyes and gill slits. Common near reefs. Feeds at night and stays on ocean bottoms by day.
Galeocerdo cuvier, Tiger shark
On of the world's most dangerous species, the tiger shark is 2nd only to the great white shark in the list of reported attacks on humans (the oceanic whitetip is possibly the most dangerous, but most of its attacks have gone unreported). The tiger shark can grow to an enormous 24 feet in length, making it one of the most formidable sharks ever. It feeds on anything and everything, fish, cephalopods, dolphins, whales, humans, tin cans, car license plates. If it's there, the tiger shark will eat it. While the tiger shark spends much of its time at depths of 30,000 feet, it has been known to move into shallow waters. It is recognisable by its coloring - blue to light green with a white to yellow underbelly, and dark 'tiger' stripes down the sides of its body.
Negaprion acutidens, Sicklefin lemon shark
The sicklefin lemon shark is almost identical to the lemon shark except for its sickle-shaped fins. Another big beast, it grows up to 12 feet long and can be found in and around warm water reefs. It is not migratory and tends to stay in the same place. It has never been implicated in attacks on humans, and tends to shy away from human activity.
Triaenodon obesus, Whitetip reef shark
The whitetip reef shark bears no relation to its cousin the oceanic whitetip. It is a bottom feeder who feeds at night on small crustaceans and fish. It can reach up to 7 feet long but it usually smaller. It is classed as potentially dangerous, even though by day it stays out of sight in undersea rock caverns and other dark areas.
Nebrius ferrugineus, Tawny nurse shark
The tawny nurse shark has a cylindrical body and a large flat head. It can reach 10.5 feet in length and lives in shallow waters to a depth of 230 feet. It feeds on octopus and small invertebrates at night, resting in underwater caves during the day. It is normally placid and will allow divers to stroke it, but caution should be exhibited as it has sharp teeth. Its species is officially listed as "vulnerable".
Isurus oxyrinchus, Shortfin mako
The shortfin mako has a sleek, slim-lined shape and a conical snout. Similar in looks to the great white, it can reach 13 feet in length. They prefer open waters and the presence of swordfish suggest the shortfin mako is not far away as they both like similar conditions.The teeth of the shortfin mako are visible even when its mouth is shut.It feeds off fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, porpoises, other sharks, seabirds and sea turtles. Shortfin makos will attack boats and humans and have been implicated in at least 3 human deaths. It is in the process of being fished to extinction and is officially classified as "vulnerable".
Sand bar and tiger sharks video
Silky and Hammerhead sharks
Carcharias taurus, Sand tiger shark
The sand tiger shark, also known as the grey nurse shark, is the shark that is most widely kept in captivity throughout the world because of its fearsome appearance. With a grey back and white underside, the sand tiger shark has a wide body, two dorsal fins, and can reach 11 feet in length. It is generally placid and it is reported that it only attacks when provoked. However, there have been several human deaths associated with the sand tiger sharks in unprovoked attacks.
Sphyrna lewini, Scalloped hammerhead
Scalloped hammerheads live in warm coastal waters and feed off small fishes and cephalopods. They are sometimes to be seen in huge schools in the shallow waters during the day. They feed in the deeper waters at night. they are not considered to be dangerous even though they can reach a length of 14 feet. Their species is classed as "endangered" due to overfishing.
Sphyrna mokarran, Great hammerhead
The great hammerhead can reach 20 feet in length. They rarely attack humans but should be treated with respect. They are being fished to extinction because their fins are prized in the lucrative Asian markets, and are officially classed as "endangered". If interested, you can read more about The Endangered Hammerhead Shark here.
Sphyrna zygaena, Smooth hammerhead
The second biggest of the hammerheads, the smooth hammerhead can reach up to 16 feet in length. It feeds off fish and other vertebrates including other sharks. It is considered dangerous and has been implicated in human attacks resulting in death. Its classification is "vulnerable".
Stegostoma fasciatum, Zebra shark
Harmless to humans, the zebra shark is a bottom-dwelling shark that eats crustaceans and small fish. Reaching up to 11.5 feet, the young have zebra stripes on their bodies, while the adults are recognisable for having leopard-like patterns on their back.
So there we have it. All these fearsome creatures live in the Red Sea. Are you sure you want to go back into the water?
Books with further information about sharks in general is available below.
More by this Author
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