What is a Caribbean Reef Shark?

Hillary Flynn

The Caribbean reef shark, or Carcharhinus perezi, is a species of shark found near Florida, Bermuda, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Brazil. It is one of the most frequently encountered reef sharks in the Caribbean Sea. This shark averages about 6.6 feet (2 meters) and may grow as long as 9.8 feet (3 meters), making it one of the largest reef sharks in its area. The snout on the Caribbean reef shark is short and blunt, and its coloring is dark gray or grayish-brown on the back, and white or pale yellow on its front.

A globe showing the Caribbean.
A globe showing the Caribbean.

The diet of the Caribbean reef shark includes a variety of bony fish and marine invertebrates such as reef fish, rays, and crabs. It has highly acute senses that allow it to happen upon prey and quickly snap its jaws in a lateral movement to secure the food in its mouth. This shark uses the ampullae of Lorenzini sensory network to locate prey. This consists of small jelly-filled pores beneath the skin that use electric vibrations to detect nearby movement. These extra sensory pores show up as small dark spots on the shark's skin.

The female Caribbean reef shark has a gestation period of one year and gives birth to between four and six live young whom the female has nourished via a placenta. In the southern hemisphere, births generally occur during the summer months of November and December. It is common for females to be scarred from bites received during mating as the males can be very aggressive at that time. Many of the young Caribbean reef sharks never make it to adulthood because they are preyed upon by other large sharks such as the bull shark and the tiger shark.

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The Caribbean reef shark is not usually an aggressive shark, but it may become agitated when feeding or when feeling threatened. Speared fish may draw these sharks and they have occasionally been reported to have bitten divers in that situation. However, they will generally ignore divers. Due to a drop in population from overfishing, the Caribbean reef shark has been declared "nearly threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The destruction of the coral reef where they reside also poses a threat, so they are protected from being fished in some, but not all, areas.

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