August 14 – Great Bite Shark

Today’s factismal: The white tip shark may be deadlier to humans than the great white shark.

When it comes to bad press, the great white shark is king. It is featured in movies (from the classic Jaws to the classically-bad Sharknado), aquariums, and the record books (with the highest number of documented attacks on people – 272). But it turns out that the great white may just be a victim of its own publicity; the real man-killer of the seas may be the white tip shark.

A whitetip shark in the Great Barrier Reef (My camera)

A whitetip shark in the Great Barrier Reef
(My camera)

Like the great white shark, the white tip shark is a ferocious predator. It likes to feast on squid, octopodes, and bony fish such as tuna (sorry, Charlie!). But, unlike the great white shark, the white tip shark doesn’t live near the shore; instead, it spends most of its time far out in the pelagic (open) ocean. And one of its favorite things to do is to follow ships, hoping for a little tasty trash of perhaps a nice, juicy sailor to fall overboard. And when it does, that’s when the white tip shark goes into a feeding frenzy so vicious that Cousteau once called them “the ocean’s most dangerous predator”.

"The ocean's deadliest predator" (My camera)

“The ocean’s most dangerous predator”
(My camera)

And that habit of following ships served the shark well on July 30, 1945. That’s when the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese destroyer. Within 12 minutes, the ship went down and some 896 sailors went into the water. Because this was wartime, the Indianapolis had left port without enough lifeboats for everyone. As a result, most of the sailors were forced to abandon ship with no lifeboat and no life jacket; they would spend the next three days swimming for their lives – literally. And if exposure, dehydration, and exhaustion weren’t enough dangers, the sailors were soon attacked by sharks. Over the next three days, some 559 sailors would die. In this one event, the whit tip shark may have killed more people than all of the great white shark attacks put together. But because there wasn’t any firm evidence that they were responsible, the official record doesn’t give them credit for the attacks. And so, even though the white tip shark is deadlier in truth, the great white holds the official record.

But the white tip shark also has a problem: people eat a lot more of them than they do people! The long fins of the white tip shark make it especially prized for shark fin soup. As a result, it has become vulnerable over much of its range. If you’d like to help keep the white tip shark from going the way of the dodo, or just want to keep one from munching on your toes, then swim on over to the Shark Trust where you can learn all kinds of neat things about all kinds of neat sharks!

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