Picture of an oceanic whitetip shark.

About The Species

Oceanic whitetip sharks are large sharks found in tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world. Oceanic whitetip sharks are long-lived, late maturing, and have low to moderate productivity.

Bycatch in commercial fisheries combined with the rise in demand for shark fins is threatening oceanic whitetip sharks. 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. Their populations have declined as a result. 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 significant 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.

ESA Threatened

throughout its range

CITES Appendix II

throughout its range


Oceanic whitetip sharks 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. They are large and have stocky builds. Their dorsal fins are rounded and their pectoral fins are long and paddle-like. The color of their bodies vary 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 fishes and cephalpods, 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.

Location Description
The oceanic whitetip shark is found throughout the world in tropical and sub-tropical waters.It is a pelagic species, generally remaining offshore in the open ocean, on the outer continental shelf, or around oceanic islands in water depths greater than 600 feet. They live from the surface of the water to at least 498 feet deep. Oceanic whitetip sharks have a strong preference for the surface mixed layer in warm waters above 20°C, and are therefore a surface-dwelling shark.
Lifespan and Reproduction

Oceanic whitetip sharks live up to 19 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.



The primary threat to the oceanic whitetip shark is incidental bycatch in commercial fisheries. 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.

Scientific Classification