Blacktip Reef Shark

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip reef shark. Photo © Pasquale Pascullo

Carcharhinus melanopterus

This small/medium shark is beige to brownish on top, fading to white below, and has very recognizable black tips to all of its fins (most noticeably its dorsal and caudal/tail fins). Although the blacktip reef sharks are caught for food, its greatest value currently is in reef and dive tourism. Because of its territorial nature, this timid shark is forced into confrontations with humans more often.

Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Genus - Carcharhinus
Species - melanopterus

Common Names

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip reef sharks feed on large fishes and sharks. Photo © Doug Perrine

English language common names for this species include blacktip reef shark, black tip reef shark, black fin reef shark, black finned shark, black tip shark, black tips nilow, black-tip reef shark, blackfin reef shark, blacktip shark, guliman, reef blacktip shark, and requien shark. Other common names include aileron noir (Creole, French), anak hiu, hiu, ikan hiu, o chan, yu kepak hitam, yu nipah, yu shirip hitam, yu sirip hitam (Malay), apeape, malie-alamata (Samoan), bakebake (Gela), bako mij and pako (Marshallese), bakua, te bakoa and te baiburebure (Kiribati), balda, mori and khada mushi (Marathi), bayanakon (Banton), boka sorrah, bokka-sorrah, caval-sorrah, mukhan sorrah, nella vekal sorrah, raman sorrah, ran sorrah (Telugu), cá mâp vây den, (Vietnamese), chalarm hoo-dum (Thai), falhu miyaru (Maldivian), fungu, marracho tinteiro de coral, nyatussue, tabar, tubarão, tubarão and xituo (Portuguese), gunna sura, kalakumattai-sura, katta-sura, thalan-sorrah and koppulisura (Tamil), gursh, jahrah, jarjur, quash asswad, rabie and shattafi (Arabic), iho and pating (Waray-waray), kaitan tutungan and pating (Maranao/Samal/Tao Sug), lodlod and tutongan (Bikol), lumba, pating, pating inglesa and pantay (Tagalog), ma'o mauri, requin à pointes noires, requin noir and requin pointes noires (French), magara and mossikhada (Gujarati), mago (Niuean), manô pâ'ele (Hawaiian), mauri (tahitian), mookan-sravu (Malayalam), mustaevähai (Finnish), neikaplethantee (Kannada), nga-man-taung-me (Burmese), papa karaji (Swahili), pating (Magindanaon), peshkaqen (Albanian), peu and woshaalang (Carolinian), sorrippet revhaj (Danish), svartspetshaj (Swedish), swartvin-rifhaai (Afrikaans), te baiburebure (Tuvaluan), teburon (Kuyunon), tiburón de puntas negras (Spanish), tsuma guro and tsumaguro (Japanese), Žralok cernošpicí and Žralok útesový cernošpicý (Czech) and Zwartpuntrifhaai (Dutch).

Importance to Humans

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip reef sharks do not pose a serious threat to humans. Photo © Doug Perrine

The blacktip reef shark is regularly caught in inshore fisheries. It is utilized for its fins and meat, but has limited market value due to its small size. This species is important in aquaria and for dive tourism.

Danger to Humans

The blacktip reef shark has been known to occasionally bite people that are swimming or wading, but does not pose a serious threat to humans. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) has only recorded 11 unprovoked blacktip reef shark attacks on humans since 1959.


> Check the status of the blacktip reef shark at the IUCN website.

The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.

Geographical Distribution

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

World distribution map for the blacktip reef shark

The blacktip reef shark is commonly found throughout the Indopacific region and the eastern Mediterranean. They are found in northern Australia from Moreton Bay (Queensland) to Shark Bay (Western Australia) and off the southwest coast of Hawaii. The blacktip reef shark is one of the most common reef sharks in the Pacific Ocean, along with the white tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) and the grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos).


Juvenile blacktip reef sharks prefer shallow, clear water along reef flats (less than 10 feet (3 m) in depth) or along continental and insular shelves. However, adults can often be found deeper over reef drop offs. Blacktip reef sharks occasionally penetrate brackish areas.


Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip reef sharks. Photo © Doug Perrine

Distinctive Features
The blacktip reef shark has two dorsal fins with the second dorsal being relatively large in size. This shark lacks an interdorsal ridge (ridge found in some species of sharks between the two dorsal fins). The origin of the first dorsal fin originates over the free tips of the pectoral fins. It has a short, bluntly rounded snout and oval eyes.

The grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) may be confused with the blacktip reef shark, however the grey reef shark can be distinguished by its stockier body and lack of black tip on the dorsal fin. The prominent black tips on all fins distinguishes this species from others that it may otherwise be easily confused.

The blacktip reef shark is beige or brownish in color on the dorsal surface and white on the belly or ventral surface (countershading). There is a light band that can be seen extending forward from the anal fin to an area between the first dorsal and the belly, which ends just above the pectoral fins. All of its fins are tipped with black pigment and accentuated by lighter pigment closer to the body of the shark.

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

The fins of the blacktip reef shark are all tipped in black. Photo © Pasquale Pascullo

The blacktip reef shark has narrow upper teeth with an oblique cusp. The lower teeth are also narrow and have finely serrated edges. Adult male blacktip reef sharks generally have more sharply curved cusps than females. Tooth counts range from 23-28 in the upper jaw and 21-27 in the lower jaw.

Size, Age, and Growth
The blacktip reef shark is a medium sized shark and commonly reaches maturity at 36-39 inches (0.91-1.0 m) total length (TL) and 38-44 inches (0.97 -1.12 m) TL for males and females respectively. The largest specimen recorded was > 79 inches (2 m) TL.

The denticles (placoid scales) of the blacktip reef shark are tooth-like in structure and embedded firmly in the skin.

Food Habits
The diet of the blacktip reef shark consists mainly of small fishes including sturgeon and mullet as well as invertebrates such as octopi and shrimp.

Carcharhinus melanopterus - Blacktip Reef Shark

The blacktip reef shark is a medium-sized shark. Photo © Doug Perrine

The blacktip reef shark has a viviparous mode of reproduction, which means that embryos develop inside the uteri of the mother and are born live. Several studies have shown conflicting time tables for the gestation period of this species. Reports of annual, biannual, and biennial reproductive cycles have been published for several areas of its range. The duration of the gestation period is in question, with reports of gestation lasting from 8-9 months, 10-11 months, and 16 months. Most litters contain 2 - 4 pups.

Some predators of the blacktip reef shark may include large fishes and sharks.

A recent study of one captive blacktip reef shark reported histozoic skeletal muscle myxosporeans. Anthobothrium lesteri have also been found in the intestinal tract of the blacktip reef shark.


Quoy and Gaimard first described Carcharhinus melanopterus in 1824. Synonyms include Carcharias playfairi andHypoprion playfairi Günther 1870, Carcharias elegans Hemprich and Ehrenberg 1899, Mapolamia spallanzani Whitley 1940, 1964 (Compagno 1988), Squalus carcharias minor Forsskål 1775, Carcharias commersoni and Squalus commersonii Blainville 1816, Squalus ustus Duméril 1824, and Carcharias marianensis Engelhardt 1912.

Prepared by: Michelle Press