Species Details

Details of Grey Reef Shark will be displayed below

Grey Reef Shark   

Common Name: Grey reef shark
Scientific Name: Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos
Local Name: Thilaakolhu miyaru, Vahboa miyaru
Dhivehi Name: ތިލާކޮޅު މިޔަރު، ވައްބޯ މިޔަރު
Animalia  (Kingdom)
Chordata  (Plylum)
Carcharhinidae  (Family)
Carcharhinus   (Genus)

Grey Reef Shark's description

The grey reef shark has a streamlined, moderately stout body with a long, blunt snout and large, round eyes. The upper and lower jaws each have 13 or 14 teeth (usually 14 in the upper and 13 in the lower). The upper teeth are triangular with slanted cusps, while the bottom teeth have narrower, erect cusps. The tooth serrations are larger in the upper jaw than in the lower. The first dorsal fin is medium-sized, and there is no ridge running between it and the second dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are narrow and falcate (sickle-shaped). The coloration is grey above, sometimes with a bronze sheen, and white below. The entire rear margin of the caudal fin has a distinctive, broad, black band. There are dusky to black tips on the pectoral, pelvic, second dorsal, and anal fins. Individuals from the western Indian Ocean have a narrow, white margin at the tip of the first dorsal fin; this trait is usually absent from Pacific populations. Grey reef sharks that spend time in shallow water eventually darken in color, due to tanning. Most grey reef sharks are less than 1.9 m (6.2 ft) long. The maximum reported length is 2.6 m (8.5 ft) and the maximum reported weight is 33.7 kg (74 lb).

Grey Reef Shark's facts

Did you know?

  • Grey reef shark can reach 5 to 6.6 feet in length and 29 to 33 kg in weight.
  • Grey reef sharks are usually grey in color. Those that live in shallow water have darker skin due to tanning.
  • Grey reef shark has elongated body, rounded snout and large eyes.
  • Grey reef sharks have triangular, serrated and very sharp teeth. They usually have 14 teeth in the upper jaw and 13 in the lower jaw.
  • Grey reef shark swims slowly most of the time, but it can achieve the speed of 25 miles per hour when chasing the prey.
  • Grey reef sharks are active throughout the whole day. They reach the peak of activity at night.
  • Grey reef sharks are active predators and true carnivores (meat-eaters). They hunt and eat different types of fish, crabs and squids.
  • Grey reef sharks have excellent sense of smell. They can smell tuna fish in 10 billionth part of the water.
  • Main predators of grey reef sharks are humans and large sharks.
  • Grey reef sharks occasionally attack people. Most attacks happened during the feeding time, when sharks become overexcited.
  • Grey reef shark shows specific behavior when it is threatened. It swims side to side with arched back, raised head and dropped pectoral fins. This unusual tactic serves to intimidate the opponent and it is often displayed in front of the divers.
  • Grey reef sharks gather in groups of 10 to 20 animals during the day, but they generally prefer solitary life. They hunt on their own during the night.
  • Males attain sexual maturity when they reach the length of 4.3 to 4.9 feet. Females become sexually mature at the length of 3.9 to 4.6 feet. This happens usually at the age of 5 to 7 years.
  • Males are very aggressive during the mating. They bite females and hold them tight with their sharp teeth during insemination. Pregnancy lasts from 9 to 14 months (usually 12) and ends with 1 to 4 pups. Females are viviparous (they give birth to live babies).
  • Grey reef shark can survive up to 25 years in the wild.

Grey Reef Shark's Behavior & Ecology

This is a very social species, often seen building “schools” of more than 100. They are active both during the day as well as at night. Social hierarchies and dominance varies depending on the habitat of various shark populations, but a social structure is almost always apparent. Because they are larger than most other species of Reef Shark, they are considered the most dominant species in the sensitive reef ecosystem.

Threat display

The "hunch" threat display of the grey reef shark is the most pronounced and well-known agonistic display (a display directed towards competitors or threats) of any shark. Investigations of this behavior have been focused on the reaction of sharks to approaching divers, some of which have culminated in attacks. The display consists of the shark raising its snout, dropping its pectoral fins, arching its back, and curving its body laterally. While holding this posture, the shark swims with a stiff, exaggerated side-to-side motion, sometimes combined with rolls or figure-8 loops. The intensity of the display increases if the shark is more closely approached or if obstacles are blocking its escape routes, such as landmarks or other sharks. If the diver persists, the shark will either retreat or launch a rapid open-mouthed attack, slashing with its upper teeth. Most observed displays by grey reef sharks have been in response to a diver (or submersible) approaching and following it from a few meters behind and above. They also perform the display towards moray eels, and in one instance towards a much larger great hammerhead (which subsequently withdrew). However, they have never been seen performing threat displays towards each other. This suggests the display is primarily a response to potential threats (i.e. predators) rather than competitors. As grey reef sharks are not territorial, they are speculated to be defending a critical volume of "personal space" around themselves. Compared to sharks from French Polynesia or Micronesia, grey reef sharks from the Indian Ocean and western Pacific are not as aggressive and less given to displaying.

Grey Reef Shark's Feeding

Grey reef sharks feed mainly on bony fishes, with cephalopods such as squid and octopus being the second-most important food group, and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters making up the remainder. The larger sharks take a greater proportion of cephalopods. These sharks hunt individually or in groups, and have been known to pin schools of fish against the outer walls of coral reefs for feeding. They excel at capturing fish swimming in the open, and they complement hunting whitetip reef sharks, which are more adept at capturing fish inside caves and crevices. Their sense of smell is extremely acute, being capable of detecting one part tuna extract in 10 billion parts of sea water. In the presence of a large quantity of food, grey reef sharks may be roused into a feeding frenzy; in one documented frenzy caused by an underwater explosion that killed several snappers, one of the sharks involved was attacked and consumed by the others.

Grey Reef Shark's Reproduction

During mating, the male grey reef shark will bite at the female's body or fins to hold onto her for copulation. Like other requiem sharks, it is viviparous: once the developing embryos exhaust their supply of yolk, the yolk sac develops into a placental connection that sustains them to term. Each female has a single functional ovary (on the right side) and two functional uteruses. One to four pups (six in Hawaii) are born every other year; the number of young increases with female size. Estimates of the gestation period range from 9 to 14 months. Parturition is thought to take place from July to August in the Southern Hemisphere and from March to July in the Northern Hemisphere. However, females with "full-term embryos" have also been reported in the fall off Enewetak. The newborns measure 45–60 cm (18–24 in) long. Sexual maturation occurs at around seven years of age, when the males are 1.3–1.5 m (4.3–4.9 ft) long and females are 1.2–1.4 m (3.9–4.6 ft) long. Females on the Great Barrier Reef mature at 11 years of age, later than at other locations, and at a slightly larger size.

Grey Reef Shark's Conservation

Grey reef shark is protected species in maldives.

Grey Reef Shark's Relationship with Humans

The grey reef shark and human beings have an interesting relationship. The sharks are valued for their fins, which are used for food items such as shark fin soup. However, this shark species is usually out of the range of commercial shark fisheries. Grey reef sharks are often curious about divers when they first enter the water and may approach quite closely, though they lose interest on repeat dives. They can become dangerous in the presence of food, and tend to be more aggressive if encountered in open water rather than on the reef. There have been several known attacks on spearfishers, possibly by mistake, when the shark struck at the speared fish close to the diver. This species will also attack if pursued or cornered, and divers should immediately retreat (slowly and always facing the shark) if it begins to perform a threat display. Photographing the display should not be attempted, as the flash from a camera is known to have incited at least one attack. Although of modest size, they are capable of inflicting significant damage: during one study of the threat display, a grey reef shark attacked the researchers' submersible multiple times, leaving tooth marks in the plastic windows and biting off one of the propellers. The shark consistently launched its attacks from a distance of 6 m (20 ft), which it was able to cover in a third of a second. As of 2008, the International Shark Attack File listed seven unprovoked and six provoked attacks (none of them fatal) attributable to this species. Although still abundant at Cocos Island and other relatively pristine sites, grey reef sharks are susceptible to localized depletion due to their slow reproductive rate, specific habitat requirements, and tendency to stay within a certain area. The IUCN has assessed the grey reef shark as Near Threatened; this shark is taken by multispecies fisheries in many parts of its range and used for various products such as shark fin soup and fishmeal. Another threat is the continuing degradation of coral reefs from human development. There is evidence of substantial declines in some populations. Anderson et al. (1998) reported, in the Chagos Archipelago, grey reef shark numbers in 1996 had fallen to 14% of 1970s levels. Robbins et al. (2006) found grey reef shark populations in Great Barrier Reef fishing zones had declined by 97% compared to no-entry zones (boats are not allowed). In addition, no-take zones (boats are allowed but fishing is prohibited) had the same levels of depletion as fishing zones, illustrating the severe effect of poaching. Projections suggested the shark population would fall to 0.1% of pre-exploitation levels within 20 years without additional conservation measures. One possible avenue for conservation is ecotourism, as grey reef sharks are suitable for shark-watching ventures, and profitable diving sites now enjoy protection in many countries, such as the Maldives.

Grey Reef Shark habitat

The Grey Reef Shark is found in clear tropical waters from the surface to depths of around 280 m (Last and Stevens 2009) and is common around coral reefs, particularly near drop-offs and fringing coral reefs. Its distribution is patchy in continental shelf waters. It attains a maximum size of 255 cm total length (TL), males mature at 110–145 cm TL and females mature at 120–142 cm TL (Wetherbee et al. 1997, Ebert et al. 2013). Reproduction is viviparous with yolk-sac placenta and small litters of 1–6 pups, a biennial reproductive cycle and size-at-birth of 48–49 cm TL (Compagno 1984, Anderson and Ahmed 1993, Last and Stevens 2009, Wetherbee et al. 1997). Smart et al. (2016) provide age data from Papua New Guinea where the females mature at 9 years, and Robbins et al. (2006) showed they reach a maximum age of at least 20 years on the Great Barrier Reef. Based on these data, generation length is estimated to be 14.5 years.

Grey Reef Shark threats

The Grey Reef Shark is caught throughout its range in industrial and small-scale longline, gillnet, trawl and handline fisheries that occur in the waters around coral reefs. There is little species specific information on catches. Most is taken as incidental catch in general reef fisheries targeting teleost fishes. However, it is occasionally taken in industrial scale fisheries. For example, Grey Reef Shark made up 4.2% (by number) of the sharks caught by the Papua New Guinea Shark Longline Fishery, making it the second most commonly caught species (White et al. 2020). The species is often retained for its meat, fins, and liver. The species is also taken in small amounts by recreational fishers in some countries. In Indonesia it makes up 0.1% of the elasmobranch catch landed at the port of Muncar (Winter et al. In press). While in Fiji, Grey Reef Shark makes up 6.3% (by number) of the sharks landed in small scale artisanal coastal fisheries (Glaus et al. 2015). In many parts of east Africa, and south and southeast Asian, there are large amounts of fishing effort targeted at carcharhinid sharks in continental shelf waters, and it continues to increase. For example, in the waters of Indonesia effort by small-scale fisheries has tripled when taking population into account (Ramenzoni 2017); and in Myanmar the International Labour Organisation (2015) estimated the number of vessels participating in the small scale inshore fishery to be about 26,000 in 2013, and the number of locally operated larger offshore vessels numbered 2,846 in 2013, having increased nearly 30% since 2009. Only in locations where fisheries are strictly regulated (e.g. Australia) (Espinoza et al. 2014), where human population densities are low (Nadon et al. 2009), or where dive-based tourism supports protection (Sutcliffe and Barnes 2018) are there low levels of threat that enable this species to remain common. 

This is a common display species in public and private aquaria. It is exported live from countries such as Australia and Indonesia to aquaria worldwide.

The reliance of this species on coral reefs makes it susceptible to declines in habitat quality. Global climate change has already resulted in large-scale coral bleaching events with increasing frequency causing worldwide reef degradation. Almost all warm-water coral reefs are projected to suffer significant losses of area and local extinctions, even if global warming is limited to 1.5ºC (IPCC Report, 2019). Destructive fishing practices in some nations (e.g. dynamite fishing) (McManus 1997) and declining water quality (MacNeil et al. 2019) have also led to the decline in coral reef habitat.


Grey Reef Shark's status