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What is a Grey Reef Shark?

Gayle R.
Gayle R.

The grey reef shark is a fairly small species of shark with a long, streamlined body. It is a common species, living in the coastal regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. With its long streamlined body, it glides smoothly through shallow areas and reefs. Although small, growing to a maximum of about 7 feet (2.13 m), it can have quite an aggressive nature.

Grey reef sharks are part of a family of similar reef shark species. These include the Caribbean reef shark, the black-tipped reef shark, and the white-tipped reef shark. They all have the typical slender gray body, white under belly, large eyes, and broad, rounded nose. Unlike their cousins, the grey reef shark's first dorsal fin is often tipped with white, and the the rear edge of the tail fin has a broad black stripe. The shark's second dorsal fin, pectoral fins, and pelvic fin have blackish-brown edges.

Reef sharks often feed on squid.
Reef sharks often feed on squid.

The diet of the grey reef shark consists primarily of cephalopods such as squid, shrimp, and octopi, and fish. They are nocturnal and typically hunt at night. Reef sharks are social creatures and when not hunting, they spend their time congregated in groups of up to 20 other sharks. They also often lay motionless on the ocean floor. These sharks have a very strong sense of smell, and are able to detect the presence of prey or danger at great distances.

A female grey reef shark gives birth to up to six fully developed pups every two years. The gestation period is about 12 months. Pups are typically around 2 feet (60.96 cm) long at birth and mature in about seven years. These sharks can live to be 25 years old.

The grey reef shark has very few natural enemies, since it tends to stay in the shallower waters. Despite its small size, its aggressive nature allows it to drive off other sharks and predators and claim territories for themselves. When threatened, the shark arches its back and swings it head from side to side. This apparently aggressive behavior is thought to be an attempt to intimidate or scare off predators. Although rare, attacks on humans by the grey reef shark have been reported. More often, this type of shark is simply curious and may approach undersea divers to investigate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Grey Reef Shark?

A Grey Reef Shark is a species of requiem shark, scientifically known as Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, commonly found in the Indo-Pacific region. They are distinguished by their robust, streamlined bodies, a short, broad snout, and a characteristic grey coloration with a white belly, often patrolling reef edges and drop-offs.

How big do Grey Reef Sharks get?

Grey Reef Sharks are relatively modest in size compared to other shark species, with adults typically reaching lengths of about 1.9 meters (6.2 feet). They have a sleek build that allows them to navigate through coral reefs with agility and precision, making them adept hunters in these environments.

What do Grey Reef Sharks eat?

Grey Reef Sharks have a varied diet that primarily consists of bony fishes, including eels, wrasses, and parrotfish. They are also known to consume cephalopods like squids and octopuses, as well as crustaceans. Their acute senses enable them to detect prey within the complex reef structures where they hunt.

Are Grey Reef Sharks dangerous to humans?

While Grey Reef Sharks are considered to be one of the more aggressive species of reef sharks, incidents involving humans are rare. According to the International Shark Attack File, Grey Reef Sharks are responsible for a very small number of unprovoked attacks on humans, most of which are not fatal. Caution is advised when diving in their presence.

How do Grey Reef Sharks reproduce?

Grey Reef Sharks are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. Females typically have a gestation period of about 12 months and give birth to litters ranging from 1 to 6 pups. The young are born fully developed and are independent from birth, ready to fend for themselves in the ocean.

What conservation status do Grey Reef Sharks have?

The Grey Reef Shark is currently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Their populations are facing pressures from overfishing, both targeted and as bycatch, and habitat degradation. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the sustainability of their populations and the overall health of reef ecosystems where they play a vital role as apex predators.

Discussion Comments


@stormyknight: I have visited the Sea Lab as well. It is very fascinating to see and learn about some of the creatures that we don't hear about a lot.

We saw several Grey Reef Shark pictures and they are beautiful creatures.


I visited the Dauphin Island Sea Lab this past summer and was fascinated at the information I received. They did a class on sharks and spoke about the Grey Reef Sharks. I learned that the activity rhythms and home ranges of the Grey Reef Sharks have been studied using sonic telemetry and direct observation at Rangiroa, French Polynesia.

During the daytime hours, the sharks usually swim very slowly in groups. At dusk, they move from their small core area and move to the shallower parts of the reef, probably foraging. The data from the telemetry suggests that the Grey Reef Sharks are much more dispersed at night but they could not confirm that through their direct observation.

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    • Reef sharks often feed on squid.
      Reef sharks often feed on squid.