There are two types of blacktip sharks, both relatively timid species that seldom pose a serious threat to humans.
The blacktip reef shark, or Carcharhinus melanopterus, prefers shallow water and is commonly seen around tropical coral reefs in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
The blacktip shark, also known as the Carcharhinus limbatus, frequents coastal tropical and subtropical waters worldwide.
An agile and energetic shark, it’s known for its ability to leap from the water in pursuit of fast-moving prey.
Both shark species have distinctive black markings on the tips of their fins, particularly the caudal and dorsal fins, although the blacktip reef shark has more prominent black tips than the blacktip.
The blacktip reef shark is slightly larger than the blacktip, reaching lengths of around 5’2″, compared to the blacktip’s 4’9″.
Both species of shark frequent areas utilized by humans but are less aggressive than many other shark species, including bull sharks and tiger sharks.
Will a Blacktip Shark Attack a Human?
The blacktip reef shark “is a favorite among many divers,” and is generally considered safe to dive with. It has a relatively small territory, making it easier to locate and observe regularly than the more migratory blacktip.
Although generally considered harmless to humans, a report published in 1973 found it “is, in fact, capable of inflicting injury.”
The report details 10 attacks on humans, nine of which occurred in “water less than waist deep.”
The author concludes that the attacks were probably due to mistaken identity, with the shark mistaking a human’s hand or foot for a fish in distress. He also notes that blacktip reef sharks are less dangerous than other reef species, such as the grey reef shark.
Attacks by black tip sharks follow a similar pattern, with most occurring in the shallow water around the surf zone.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been six non-fatal shark attacks off the coast of Daytona Beach in Florida, and officials believe the same culprit was responsible for all of them.
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, blacktip sharks “are likely responsible for the majority of bites in Florida.”
Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum’s shark research program, believes these attacks on humans are unintentional, saying that “60% of all bites we record are in low visibility water.”
Can You Swim Safely With Blacktip Reef Sharks?
Blacktip reef sharks are generally safe to swim with, as long as you take the necessary precautions. Many scuba divers and snorkelers have enjoyed swimming with this shark.
Usually timid and a little skittish, blacktip reef sharks can be difficult to approach and will often avoid interactions with human beings.
Blacktip reef sharks feed on crustaceans and fish but have been known to consume terrestrial and sea snakes.
They are one of several reef sharks that hunt together in packs. They don’t necessarily share the fruits of their labor, but still use collective behavior to benefit the species and the individual.
While not considered a dangerous shark species, blacktip reef sharks may become aggressive around food, as this video demonstrates.
These blacktip reef sharks have no qualms about approaching the divers, eager as they are to claim their catch as their own.
Even after the diver relinquishes his catch bag, the sharks continue their assault, narrowly missing one of the diver’s legs in the process.
There are several ways you can reduce the chances of an attack by this species of requiem shark:
Avoid Murky Waters
Only swim, scuba, or snorkel when the visibility is good. Poor visibility makes it harder for the shark to identify its prey accurately and increases the chances of attacks on humans as a result of mistaken identity.
Don’t Swim at Dawn or Dusk
Blacktip reef sharks are more active and aggressive at dawn and dusk, so are more likely to bite humans during these periods.
To a shark, a human splashing and flailing around in the water looks a lot like a fish in distress. Keeping your movements slow and gentle will reduce the risk of attack.
Give Them Space
Sharks will attack if they feel threatened, so approaching any type of shark increases the possibility of being bitten.
Are Blacktip Sharks Aggressive?
The blacktip shark is not considered one of the most aggressive sharks, but it’s still responsible for around “16% of the shark attacks around Florida” every year.
Unlike the most dangerous shark species, blacktip sharks come close to the shore to feed, bringing them into proximity to humans.
These relatively common sharks are found throughout the Mediterranean Sea and along the Pacific Coast.
Feeding on small schooling fish, blacktip sharks attack their prey from below, often breaching the water and spinning rapidly in the air at the end of their high-speed pursuit.
Blacktip sharks rarely hunt in packs but their sociability “makes them prone to feeding frenzies,” especially when large quantities of food are suddenly available.
Off the coast of South Africa, blacktip sharks often join in the annual sardine run, but rarely “generate or maintain bait balls.”
Instead, they take an opportunistic approach and capitalize on the available food once the bait ball’s been formed.
Blacktip sharks are inquisitive but generally timid. They do sometimes approach humans out of curiosity but are rarely aggressive unless there’s food around.
Most Blacktip Shark Attacks Are Non-Fatal
According to the International Shark Attack File, the majority of blacktip shark attacks on humans are unprovoked and non-fatal.
They usually occur as the result of mistaken identity when poor visibility makes it difficult for the shark to accurately identify its prey.
Most attacks by blacktip sharks occur in shallow water while the sharks are migrating. In Florida, this happens in September, when the blacktips head south to warmer waters, and again in March when they begin their journey north.
However, climate change is impacting these movements, and scientists are finding fewer blacktip sharks migrate now than ever before.
According to a story in the National Geographic, over the past couple of years, more blacktip sharks are staying north, “thanks to the East Coast’s warming waters.”
However, that doesn’t explain the frequency of blacktip shark attacks in Florida, where six people have been bitten since January 2022.
The International Shark Attack File lists a total of 41 non-provoked attacks on humans by blacktip sharks, compared to just 14 by blacktip reef sharks, making the former a much more dangerous shark to be around.
Like the blacktip reef shark, black tip sharks are more likely to attack when there’s food in the vicinity, even though the 1973 report found “dead or injured fishes were present” in only three of the 10 attacks listed.
Black tip sharks seek the safety of coastal waters to escape predators like the hammerhead shark that finds it difficult to maneuver in shallow water.
This brings them into proximity to humans, increasing the chances of an attack.
Neither the blacktip reef shark nor the blacktip shark are considered to be the most dangerous sharks.
That title belongs to either bull sharks or great whites, depending on your perspective. Nevertheless, both species appear in the shark attack file ISAF.
Both these requiem sharks frequent shallow, coastal waters where they come into contact with humans fairly regularly.
Most shark attacks result from mistaken identity and usually occur when visibility is poor.
The best way to avoid a shark attack is to stay out of the water around dawn and dusk when sharks tend to be more active.
Some experts also believe that swimming rather than wading when blacktip sharks are in the area can reduce the chance of an attack.
Sharks are amazing creatures and natural predators, and as such, they deserve our respect.
If you find yourself in the water with a shark of any species, keep your distance, remain calm, and it’s likely the shark will do the same.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.