- Final Rule (83 FR 4153, January 30, 2018)
- Proposed Threatened Listing (81 FR 96304, December 29, 2016)
- 90-Day Finding (81 FR 1376, January 12, 2016)
Oceanic Whitetip Shark
About the Species
Oceanic whitetip sharks are large, pelagic sharks found in tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world. They live offshore in deep water, but spend most of their time in the upper part of the water column near the surface. Oceanic whitetip sharks are long-lived, late maturing, and have low to moderate productivity.
The main threat to oceanic whitetip sharks is bycatch in commercial fisheries combined with demand for its fins. They are frequently caught in pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries worldwide and their fins are highly valued in the international trade for shark products. As a result, their populations have declined throughout its global range. In 2018, NOAA Fisheries listed the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Information on the global population size of the oceanic whitetip is lacking. However, several lines of evidence suggest that the once common and abundant shark has experienced declines of potentially significant magnitude due to heavy fishing pressure. For example, the oceanic whitetip has declined by approximately 80 to 95 percent across the Pacific Ocean since the mid-1990s. Substantial abundance declines have also been estimated for the Atlantic Ocean, including an 88 percent decline in the Gulf of Mexico due to commercial fishing. Given their life history traits, particularly their late age of maturity and low reproductive output, oceanic whitetip sharks are inherently vulnerable to depletions, with low likelihood of recovery. Additional research is needed to better understand the population structure and global abundance of the oceanic whitetip shark.
- Throughout Its Range
CITES Appendix II
- Throughout Its Range
SPAW Annex III
- Throughout the Wider Caribbean Region
Oceanic whitetip sharks are large-bodied sharks with a stocky build, and have a distinctive pattern of mottled white markings on the tips of their dorsal, pectoral, and tail fins. These markings are why they are called “whitetip” sharks. Their dorsal fins are rounded and their pectoral fins are long and paddle-like. The color of their bodies varies depending on where they live. They are generally-grayish bronze to brown, while their undersides are whitish with some individuals having a yellow tinge.
Behavior and Diet
The oceanic whitetip shark are considered a top predator, eating at the top of the food chain. They are opportunistic, feeding primarily on bony fish and cephalopods, such as squid. However, they also reportedly feed on large pelagic sportfish (e.g., tuna, marlin), sea birds, other sharks and rays, marine mammals, and even garbage.
Where They Live
The oceanic whitetip shark is found throughout the world in tropical and sub-tropical waters. It is a pelagic species, generally found offshore in the open ocean, on the outer continental shelf, or around oceanic islands in deep water areas. Although they can make deep dives and have been recorded up to 1,082 meters (3,549 feet) deep, they typically live in the upper part of the water column, from the surface to at least 200 meters (656 feet deep). Oceanic whitetip sharks have a strong preference for the surface mixed layer in warm waters above 20°C, and are therefore considered a surface-dwelling shark.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Oceanic whitetip sharks are estimated to live up to 25 years, although it is thought that individuals may live to be much older (up to 36 years). Female oceanic whitetip sharks reach maturity between 6 and 9 years of age (depending on geographic location) and give birth to live young after a very lengthy gestation period of 10 to 12 months. The reproductive cycle is thought to be biennial, with sharks giving birth on alternate years to litters ranging from 1 to 14 pups (average of 6). There is also a likely correlation between female size and number of pups per litter, with larger sharks producing more offspring.
Commercial Fishing and Bycatch
The primary threat to the oceanic whitetip shark is incidental bycatch in commercial fisheries, including longlines, purse seines, and gillnets (among other gear types) Because of their preferred distribution in warm, tropical waters, and their tendency to remain at the surface, oceanic whitetip sharks have high encounter and mortality rates in fisheries throughout their range.
Harvest for international trade
Their large, distinct fins are also highly valued in the international shark fin trade.
In the Spotlight
The oceanic whitetip shark is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It is also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Annex II of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife of the Cartagena Convention (SPAW Protocol), and Annex I of the Sharks Memorandum of Understanding on the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
Recovery Planning and Implementation
Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries is required to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation and survival of listed species. NOAA Fisheries has developed a recovery outline to serve as an interim guidance document to direct recovery efforts, including recovery planning, for the oceanic whitetip shark until a full recovery plan is developed and approved. The recovery outline presents a preliminary strategy for recovery of the species and recommends high priority actions to stabilize and recover the species.
The major actions recommended in the outline include:
- Maintain existing U.S. laws and regulations that protect sharks and prohibit retention of oceanic whitetip sharks in pelagic longline fisheries and some recreational fisheries.
- Improve understanding of bycatch and associated mortality rates (including at-vessel and post-release mortality) in key fisheries, including impacts of various factors such as gear type, hook type and depth, temperature, temporal and spatial fishing effort, interactions with fish aggregating devices, etc. for informing future fisheries management strategies to reduce fisheries interactions and associated mortality.
- Reduce primary threats (e.g., bycatch-related mortality in commercial fisheries) to prevent further declines in species' abundance and stabilize populations, including investigating best methods for safe release of oceanic whitetip sharks in longlines.
- Improve understanding of population distribution, abundance, trends, and structure through research, monitoring, and modeling.
- Identify and protect key habitat areas, including breeding and nursery grounds through research, monitoring, modeling, and management.
- Improve understanding of reproductive periodicity and seasonality to inform future management measures for minimizing impacts to the species during key life history functions.
- Review available information to determine if any countries continue to catch significant amounts of oceanic whitetip shark and/or are involved in the trade of oceanic whitetip fins to prioritize outreach and coordination for improving compliance with regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and CITES requirements.
- Coordinate with relevant RFMOs to improve, where needed, reporting and compliance related to current conservation measures for oceanic whitetip sharks to address bycatch mortality.
Recovery Planning Workshops
We held two recovery planning workshops for the oceanic whitetip shark—one on April 23-24, 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaiߵi, and another on November 13 and 14, 2019 in Miami, Florida. The purpose of these workshops was to gather information, facts, and perspectives on how to recover the oceanic whitetip shark, including identifying potential recovery criteria and actions to address the threats to the oceanic whitetip shark. Participants included federal and state agencies, scientific experts, commercial fishermen, conservation partners, and non-governmental organizations.
- Recovery Planning Workshop Agenda - Honolulu, Hawaiߵi (PDF, 3 page)
- Recovery Planning Workshop Summary - Honolulu, Hawaiߵi (PDF, 18 pages)
- Recovery Planning Workshop Agenda - Miami, Florida (PDF, 3 pages)
- Recovery Planning Workshop Summary - Miami, Florida (PDF, 21 pages)
Kristen Koyama, Oceanic Whitetip Shark Recovery Coordinator
For more information on oceanic whitetip sharks in our regions:
Adam Brame, Southeast Region
Chelsey Young, Pacific Islands Region
At the 2013 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Parties agreed to include oceanic whitetip sharks in Appendix II of CITES, with the listing effective on September 14, 2014. The inclusion of oceanic whitetip sharks in CITES Appendix II helps ensure that the international trade for this species is legal and sustainable.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the government agency designated under the Endangered Species Act to carry out the provisions of CITES. NOAA Fisheries provides guidance and scientific support on marine issues given our technical expertise.
Key Actions and Documents
Recent Science Blogs
Programmatic biological opinion on the Gulf of Mexico oil and Gas Program in federal waters…
Final Biological Opinion on the Continued Authorization for the Hawaii Pelagic Shallow-Set Longline Fishery
NOAA Fisheries biological opinion on the continued operation of the Hawaii shallow-set longline…
This document serves as an interim guidance document to direct recovery efforts for the oceanic…
This report was produced in response to a petition received from Defenders of Wildlife on September…
Data & Maps
Logbook summary reports for the 2020 calendar year.
Logbook summary reports for the 2020 calendar year.
Logbook summary reports for the 2019 calendar year.