Spinner Shark Facts

Spinner shark, Carcharhinus brevipinna, swims with school of reef fishes
Spinner shark, Carcharhinus brevipinna, swims with school of reef fishes. Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Getty Images

The spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna) is a type of requiem shark. It is a live-bearing, migratory shark found in warm ocean waters. Spinner sharks get their name from their interesting feeding strategy, which involves spinning through a school of fish, snapping them up, and often leaping into the air.

Fast Facts: Spinner Shark

  • Scientific Name: Carcharhinus brevipinna
  • Distinguishing Features: Slender shark with long snout, black-tipped fins, and habit of spinning through water when feeding.
  • Average Size: 2 m (6.6 ft) length; 56 kg (123 lb) weight
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Life Span: 15 to 20 years
  • Habitat: Coastal waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Order: Carcharhiniformes
  • Family: Carcharhinidae
  • Fun Fact: Spinner sharks don't eat humans, but will bite if they are excited by other food.

Description

The spinner shark has a long and pointed snout, slender body, and relatively small first dorsal fin. Adults have black-tipped fins that look as though they were dipped in ink. The upper body is gray or bronze, while the lower body is white. On average, adults are 2 m (6.6 ft) long and weigh 56 kg (123 lb). The largest recorded specimen was 3 m (9.8 ft) long and weighed 90 kg (200 lb).

Spinner shark
Spinner shark.

Spinner sharks and blacktip sharks are commonly confused with each other. The spinner has a slightly more triangular dorsal fin that is further back on the body. An adult spinner shark also has a distinctive black tip on its anal fin. However, juveniles lack this marking and the two species share similar behaviors, so it's difficult to tell them apart.

Distribution

Due to difficulty distinguishing between blacktip and spinner sharks, the spinner's distribution is uncertain. It can be found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, with the exception of the eastern Pacific. The species prefers warm coastal water that is less than 30 m (98 ft) deep, but some subpopulations migrate into deeper water.

Spinner shark distribution
Spinner shark distribution. Chris_huh

Diet and Predators

Bony fishes are the staple of the spinner shark's diet. The sharks also eat octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and stingrays. The shark's teeth are made for grabbing prey rather than cutting it. A group of spinner sharks chases a school of fish then charges it from below. A spinning shark snaps up fish whole, often carrying enough momentum to leap into the air. Blacktip sharks also employ this hunting technique, although it is less common.

Humans are the spinner shark's primary predator, but spinner sharks are also eaten by larger sharks.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Spinner sharks and other requiem sharks are viviparous. Mating occurs from spring to summer. The female has two uteri, which are divided into compartments for each embryo. Initially, each embryo lives off its yolk sac. The yolk sac forms a placental connection with the female, which then provides nutrients until the pups are born. Gestation lasts from 11 to 15 months. Mature females give birth to 3 to 20 pups every other year. Spinner sharks start reproducing between the ages of 12 and 14 and can live until they are 15 to 20 years old.

Spinner Sharks and Humans

Spinner sharks don't eat large mammals, so bites from this species are uncommon and not fatal. The fish will bite if provoked or excited during a feeding frenzy. As of 2008, a total of 16 unprovoked bites and one provoked attack were attributed to spinner sharks.

The shark is valued in sport fishing for the challenge it presents as it leaps from the water. Commercial fishermen sell the fresh or salted meat for food, the fins for shark fin soup, the skin for leather, and the liver for its vitamin-rich oil.

Conservation Status

The IUCN classifies the spinner shark as "near threatened" worldwide and "vulnerable" along the southeastern United States. The number of sharks and the population trend is unknown, mainly because spinner sharks are so often confused with other requiem sharks. Because spinner sharks live along highly populated coasts, they are subject to pollution, habitat encroachment, and habit degradation. However, overfishing poses the most significant threat. The US National Marine Fisheries Service 1999 Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks sets bag limits for recreational fishing and quotas for commercial fishing. While sharks of the species grow quickly, the age at which they breed approximates their maximum lifespan.

Sources

  • Burgess, G.H. 2009. Carcharhinus brevipinna. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T39368A10182758. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2009-2.RLTS.T39368A10182758.en
  • Capape, C.; Hemida, F.; Seck, A.A.; Diatta, Y.; Guelorget, O. & Zaouali, J. (2003). "Distribution and reproductive biology of the spinner shark, Carcharhinus brevipinna (Muller and Henle, 1841) (Chondrichthyes: Carcharhinidae)". Israel Journal of Zoology. 49 (4): 269–286. doi:10.1560/DHHM-A68M-VKQH-CY9F
  • Compagno, L.J.V. (1984). Sharks of the World: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization. pp. 466–468. ISBN 92-5-101384-5.
  • Dosay-Akbulut, M. (2008). "The phylogenetic relationship within the genus Carcharhinus". Comptes Rendus Biologies. 331 (7): 500–509. doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2008.04.001
  • Fowler, S.L.; Cavanagh, R.D.; Camhi, M.; Burgess, G.H.; Cailliet, G.M.; Fordham, S.V.; Simpfendorfer, C.A. & Musick, J.A. (2005). Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras: The Status of the Chondrichthyan Fishes. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. pp. 106–109, 287–288. ISBN 2-8317-0700-5.