The blacktip reef shark is the most common shark seen in the warm coastal waters around Koh Tao. Easily identified by its prominent black fin tips, especially on its dorsal fin the Blacktip is a requiem shark, in the family Carcharhinidae. Blacktips grow to a maximum of 2 metres long and are extremely good swimmers. They are most commonly found in shallow waters close to land, where they feed on small fish, crustaceans and sea snakes.
Baby blacktips have been spotted at a number of shallow dive sites around Koh Tao but are mainly spotted in Shark Bay or Aow Leuk. Although very timid and skittish, if you are patient, and wait long enough they usually swim back around as they are very curious, making it easy to go and see one of the local area’s apex predators, whether scuba diving or snorkelling.
While the young generally stay close to the island, swimming around the shallow bays, the larger adults have been seen on some of the of the deeper dive sites a little further away from Koh Tao. Staying close to home, Blacktips are known to stay in the same area for several years at a time.
Hunting In Packs
Most species of sharks are solo hunters. Blacktip reef sharks however are among the few that sometimes work together to catch their food. When they come across a school of reef fish, Blacktips will work together, herding their prey into a tight ball before they attack. Blacktip reef sharks have sometimes been spotted above the water.
They are one of a few types of sharks that can leap above the surface, rotate a few times, and splash down on their backs. This amazing display is part of a stealthy feeding method they use to attack schools of fish from below which are nearer to the water’s surface.
In recent years total numbers of Blacktip reef sharks have declined and unfortunately they are now classed as a ‘near threatened’ species. Blacktip reef sharks are often caught as ‘by catch’ from other types of fishing. Their fins are also used for shark fin soup which is another major factor in the blacktip reef sharks decline in recent years. With the numbers of the slow reproducing Blacktip Reef shark falling it makes me feel so lucky when I do get the chance to dive or snorkel with them. They are an incredible sight to watch in their natural habitat.
The first time I came in contact with Blacktip reef sharks was a day snorkelling at Aow Leuk. At one point I was being circled by 7 sharks. As they got used to me being there they gradually came closer and at one point a few even swam through my legs! It was very cool. The next occasion I was lucky enough to encounter a Blacktip was when I was conducting on a night adventure dive at White Rock, only this one wasn’t a baby, this was a fully grown 2 metre beauty!
When I first spotted her all I saw was 2 yellow eyes reflecting from my torch light, moving towards me. At first I thought it was a stingray. I turned to get my students attention so they too could see and as I turned back around I watched these 2 eyes come closer. I quickly realised this was no stingray.
She came closer and closer and turned at the very last second, swimming of. I was no more than a few inches away from her. It was an incredible experience. Then as I thought that was the end she swam back again for another look.
My students and I just sat and watched as she did a swim past, before swimming off into the darkness. What a fantastic dive! I’ve seen blacktips on dives since and each time it’s still just as special. Why anyone would want to risk endangering them, just for their fins is so very sad.
Author: Andrew McEvoy (PADI MSDT #342956)