Types of sharks found in The Red Sea

Types of sharks found in The Red Sea

The Red Sea is a ‘must dive destination’ for all divers because of its vast and magnificent marine life. You can experience various dive sites all with their own unique quirks and infamous sea creatures. Diving in this region is growing more and more popular especially for advanced divers that want to catch a glimpse of larger sea creatures in the open water.  The demand for shark diving is growing worldwide and The Red Sea is home to 10 different species of shark.  This makes it a ‘hotspot’ for diving with sharks and a once in a lifetime experience. At Blue Ocean our specialized team values the importance of diving safely with sharks to guarantee a thrilling and safe dive. 

Here are some of the species of shark found in The Red Sea:

Tiger Shark

Tiger sharks are solidary nocturnal animals that are usually found in warmer waters. They are usually grey with a white belly. They are named because of the dark stripes down their body.  Their eyes are faced forward and they have fantastic eyesight for targeting their prey. On rare occasions they have been spotted in small groups, but only when there’s lots of food to share.  Tiger sharks are infamous for their diet because unlike other sharks they will truly eat anything! They regularly hunt turtles and will even eat other sharks. Men made objects such as paint cans are also frequently found in their stomachs! 

Tiger sharks can weigh between 175 to 635 kg and can reach a length of 5m. Unlike other sharks they have notched teeth. This means their grip is extremely strong and can cut through the thickest of hides making pretty much any animal or even object edible for a tiger shark. Tiger sharks are also unique in that they give birth to huge litters. Pregnancy lasts 14 to 16 months and each birth at least 10 pups. Reports have even found up to 80 pups at once!

The tiger shark has few enemies in the water; however they can be preyed on by groups of killer whales. The biggest threat to these sharks is humans due to fishing and finning.

Whitetip Reef Shark

These sharks are small and rarely reach even 2m in length. They are usually spotted close to the seabed and reefs. Their bodies are grey and they have white tips on their fins.  During the day they usually rest in caves, however at night they hunt bony fish, crustaceans and octopus. They hunt in groups and their elongated bodies allow them to reach small crevices and hole to capture their prey.  They are very habitual animals and will often stay in the same reef or area for months or even years.

These sharks are fearless and very curious. They may swim to divers and swimmers; however they are not aggressive to humans. They only bite in defense or if they are trying to steal fish from a spear fisher.  They are considered vulnerable as they are illegally fished for food and they have low reproductive rates. 

Blacktip Shark

Blacktip sharks are a brownish grey color with white bellies. They are names after their distinctive black tipped fins. They are usually found in the south of The Red Sea near deep reefs and vertical walls. They are slightly smaller than Whitetip sharks, measuring around 1.8m in length.  These sharks are very wary of humans so it’s best for divers to keep their distance. They have a timid disposition so are not likely to attack unless threatened or in the presence of food.  Their behavior is unpredictable and aggressive when they are close to catching their prey.  They can be seen making spinning leaps through the water when they are attacking a school of fish.

They are very timid compared to other sharks so often lose out when competing for food, but this doesn’t mean they are not aggressive to humans. There are been reports of these sharks biting, although not fatal they are still serious attacks.  When these sharks are hunting their jumps can give them a speed of 6.3 m/s.

Blacktip sharks are considered vulnerable because they are fished for their meat and oil. They also suffer from the destruction of their nurseries.  These sharks spend their first few months in shallow nurseries and grown females usually return to their nursery to give birth to their own pups.  On average they give birth to 1 – 10 pups and the female sharks are capable of asexual reproduction.

Tawny Nurse Shark

The Tawny Nurse shark is large and stout. It is usually a dark grey color and is considered a carpet shark. This is because it is a bottom feeder and found on seagrass beds or sandy flats and reefs.  It can be identified by its rounded blunt nose. It can reach around 3m in length but is not typically harmful to divers or snorkelers.  It hunts smaller sea creatures and is known for hunting octopus. It can also eat squids, small fish and crustaceans. During the day it hides under coral ledges usually in groups. At night it becomes highly active hunting and driving out octopus from the small crevices and caves in the reef.  They have powerful suction that makes it excellent at forcing out its prey. 

Tawny Nurse Sharks are somewhat placid which means they usually let divers come close and touch and play with them. However divers should avoid touching any sea life and give this shark respect because it is still powerful and not to be underestimated. It has very strong jaws and sharp teeth. It is a strong and large shark and will attack if it feels threatened.  Unfortunately this incredible creature is considered vulnerable to extinction due to overfishing.  Once captured by fishermen it is known to spit water in their faces as a tactic to get free. 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

These incredible sharks are usually spotted in the south of The Red Sea near Brothers Island, Elphinstone and Daedalus.  The oceanic whitetip shark is slow moving but aggressive and unpredictable when threatened.  They prefer the Open Ocean and temperatures above 18 degrees, although there are sightings in cooler waters. These sharks are usually solitary animals that hunt close to the surface of the water, they are commonly known as the ship – following sharks. They can grow to the average length of 3.5 meters and are often heavy looking. They can also be identified by the white marks on the tips of its fins.

The oceanic whitetip shark feeds on various creatures such as bony fish like barracuda, jacks and dolphin fish as well as larger fish such as stingrays and sea turtles.  It attacks by biting into groups of fish or swimming through schools of tuna with a wide open mouth.  When this shark is attracted to its prey it approaches cautiously. It retreats and watches from afar. Although it is slow moving it has quick bursts of speed that make it capable of seeking an opportunity quickly and capturing its target.  These sharks also compete with silky sharks for food. They usually follow schools of tuna or squid or larger fish such as dolphins. This species of shark was once very common and widely distributed. Unfortunately it is highly fished for its meat and fins which make it vulnerable to extinction.

Silvertip Shark

The Silvertip shark is more slender than the Oceanic whitetip shark although it too has white tips on the fins. The silvertip shark can be identified by its more rounded snout and its more triangular dorsal fin.  It grows to about 3 meters in length and is relatively rare to spot but is has been see in sites such as Brothers Island or deep in Elphinstone. These sharks are very mobile and usually hunt alone although they can sometimes be seen in small groups. They present territorial behavior so divers should keep their distance from them.  These sharks deserve their respect and space as they can be aggressive even towards each other. They are usually heavily scarred because they fight with other sharks when competing for food. They usually dominate other species of sharks of similar size such as the Blacktip shark.

The Silvertip shark has 12 – 14 rows of teeth on both of its jaws. They usually eat bony fish and occasionally eagle rays, smaller sharks and octopus. They also circulate other feeding sharks and dash in to steal food. They also often approach ships because they are attracted to the low frequency sounds. Young silvertip sharks stay in shallower waters or lagoons while mature ones prefer the deeper open sea.  They sometimes follow bottlenose dolphins in the open water and they are usually accompanied by pilot fish. The females have relatively low reproduction rates typical of all sharks and usually birth 1 – 11 pups in the summer season.

The silvertip shark sometimes performs a threat display when it feels threatened by divers. This serves as their warning before they attack.  The shark will swim away from the divers quickly creating around 15 meters of distance. It then turns back and charges at the threat and suddenly brakes close to the threat. It then shivers its body as the ultimate threat. If the diver continues it may attack quickly.  

Thresher Shark

Thresher sharks are large and rare to see as their numbers are dramatically declining because of sport and over fishing. They can be found in all tropical waters in the world.  Although they can reach 6 meters in length they are not a threat to humans. They are dark blue or grey with white bellies. They have an elongated tail and large dorsal fins. They are typically spotted in the south of Brothers Island.  The thresher shark usually prefers the open ocean rather than the off shore waters which make this a rare but worthwhile sighting.  They usually hunt schools of fish such as bluefish, tuna and mackerel. They are known to follow these schools into shallower waters. The thresher shark attacks by stunning its prey with its long tail before eating them.  This shark has a small short head and a small mouth compared to other sharks.

These sharks prefer to be alone and are even know to separate by depth and space according to their sex. Sometimes they may be spotted in a small group while hunting.  Their tail acts as a whip and they are the only sharks that can jump completely out of the water. They use their tail to propel them forward. They can make turns in the air similar to dolphins.  They are noted for their highly migratory habits which makes them rare for divers to spot.

Silky Shark

Silky sharks are named for their sleek appearance and smooth textured skin. They have pointed snouts and long pectoral fins. It is highly mobile and migratory but often found in tropical waters.  They can grow to around 3 meters in length and are spotted off small islands and off shore reefs.  They usually hunt in small packs and are very curious of divers. This means divers should proceed with caution as they sometimes come very close.

Due to its size and sharp teeth it can be dangerous and can become aggressive, however attacks are rare and it usually becomes defensive when threatened. Divers are encouraged to keep their distance from these sharks.

This shark is quick and a very persistent hunter. It hunts bony fish and is known for driving them into compact schools before launching its attack.  They typically trail schools of tuna as this is its favorable prey.  They have very good hearing and they use this to their advantage by localizing low frequency sounds from other feeding animals and food sources. Like most sharks they are slow – reproducers but can give birth to around 16 pups annually.

Whale Shark

These are the friendliest of sharks. They are completely harmless to humans. They are huge and average 9 meters but can reach up to 12 meters. However they are feeder fish which means they feed on plankton and other small fish. They have a huge blunt head and are covered in white and grey spots. They can usually be spotted in sites like Tiran Island, Ras Nasrani or Ras Zatar.  They are also usually accompanied by pilot fish.

They are slow moving giant beasts with a life expectancy of 80 – 130 years! They even have the ability to recover from major injuries by regenerating small sections of their body. They have over 300 rows of teeth and there are only 2 species of shark that have this and feed this way. Their skin is 15mm thick which makes it extremely strong!

Whale sharks are very friendly and are reasonably comfortable around divers. Young whale sharks will play and be very gentle with divers. However please don’t touch these majestic animals as it can disturb their natural disposition and habitat.  

 Hammerhead shark

In The Red Sea scalloped hammerhead sharks can be seen in the early morning as they come close to the reefs from the open ocean to visit cleaning stations. They are usually seen in large groups while hunting schools of tuna, jack and mackerel.  The best chance to see these incredible sharks is at dive sites like Daedalus, Elphinstone or Tiran Straits at dawn or dusk. The best time of year is in the north from July to September and in the south from May to July.

Hammerhead sharks are large and use their hammer shaped heads while hunting. Their form is believed to help them with sensory reception, maneuvering and prey manipulation. These sharks eat fish, squid, octopus and stingrays. They swim along the sea bed; they use their head to pin down stingrays and eat. Some species of hammerhead will eat other hammerhead sharks including its own young.

Unfortunately the scalloped hammerhead is considered critically endangered due to overfishing.  Surprisingly these sharks are very shy and timid. They are easily scared away by divers. It is recommended that divers avoid exhaling bubbles when hammerhead sharks are near as this makes them fearful and scares them off. They are fairly small sharks and there are no reports of attacks on humans.