Are there so few reef sharks because of human activities such as fishing and finning, or were there never very many to start with? To answer this question, a team of marine biologists (which did not include Friedlander) decided to count reef sharks at coral reefs close and far to human settlements to better understand how humans impact their populations.
Based on morphological similarities, Jack Garrick in 1982 grouped this species with the bignose shark (C. altimus) and the sandbar shark (C. plumbeus), while Leonard Compagno in 1988 placed it as the sister species of the grey reef shark (C. amblyrhynchos). A phylogenetic analysis based on allozyme data, published by Gavin Naylor in 1992, indicated that the Caribbean reef shark is the sister taxon to a clade formed by the Galapagos shark (C. galapagensis), dusky shark (C. obscurus), oceanic whitetip shark (C. longimanus), and the blue shark (Prionace glauca). However, more work is required to fully resolve the interrelationships within Carcharhinus.[3]
Along with the blacktip reef shark (C. melanopterus) and the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), the grey reef shark is one of the three most common sharks inhabiting Indo-Pacific reefs. They actively expel most other shark species from favored habitats, even species larger in size.[3] In areas where this species co-exists with the blacktip reef shark, the latter species occupies the shallow flats, while the former stays in deeper water.[4] Areas with a high abundance of grey reef sharks tend to contain few sandbar sharks (C. plumbeus), and vice versa; this may be due to their similar diets causing competitive exclusion.[11]
The Black-tip Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) is a species of shark of the family Carcharhinidae, easily identified by the black tips of its fins, especially on the first dorsal fin and the caudal fin. It is one of the most abundant sharks in the tropical coral reefs of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. This species prefers shallow coastal waters and frequently exposes its first dorsal fin in these areas. Most Black-tipped Sharks live on reef margins and sandy bottoms, but they are also known to support brackish or freshwater environments. This species generally reaches a length of 1.6 m. Black-tip Sharks are sedentary and live in very small areas and may remain in the same area for several years. They are active predators of small bone fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, and are also known to feed on marine snakes and seabirds. The data collected concerning the life cycle of the Black-tip Shark are sometimes contradictory and there appear to be significant differences depending on the geographical location within the range of the species. Like other members of its family, this shark is viviparous and females give birth to between two and five young babies every two years, every year or sometimes twice a year. Indeed, according to its habitat the gestation period of this shark can be 7-9 months, 10-11 months or 16 months. Newborns live in coastal waters and in shallower waters than adults, often forming large groups in areas flooded by high tides. Shy and capricious, the Black-tip Shark is difficult to approach and rarely represents a danger to humans, unless it is excited by food. However, bathers in shallow waters can sometimes have their legs bitten by mistake. This shark is fished for its meat, fins and liver oil, but is not considered to be a commercially important species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed the near threatened species. Although the species as a whole remains widespread and relatively common, overfishing of this shark and its slow rate of reproduction has led to its decline in a number of localities.
The Caribbean Reef Shark is known to become aggressive in the presence of food, but they are mostly only considered dangerous to humans because of its size. This shark was fished in Belize for almost the entire 20th century. They were used to make local delicacies in addition to liver oil (mostly used in cosmetics). Their low reproduction rate combined with a high level of hunting and fishing have caused the numbers to dwindle. The shark is now considered to be near threatened. Many countries and organizations have banned the commercial fishing of this species.
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A profitable ecotourism industry has arisen around this species involving organized "shark feeds", in which groups of reef sharks are attracted to divers using bait. Some US$6,000,000 is spent annually on shark viewing in the Bahamas, where at some sites a single living Caribbean reef shark has a value between US$13,000 and US$40,000 (compared to a one-time value of US$50–60 for a dead shark).[14] This practice has drawn controversy, as opponents argue that the sharks may learn to associate humans with food, increasing the chances of a shark attack, and that the removal of reef fishes for bait may damage the local ecosystem. Conversely, proponents maintain that shark feeds contribute to conservation by incentivizing the protection of sharks and educating people about them. Thus far, there has been little evidence that shark feeds have increased the risk of attack in the surrounding area.[8][15] Shark feeding has been outlawed off the coast of Florida, but continues at other locations in the Caribbean.[4]
Corals, including some major extinct groups Rugosa and Tabulata, have been important reef builders through much of the Phanerozoic since the Ordovician Period. However, other organism groups, such as calcifying algae, especially members of the red algae Rhodophyta, and molluscs (especially the rudist bivalves during the Cretaceous Period) have created massive structures at various times. During the Cambrian Period, the conical or tubular skeletons of Archaeocyatha, an extinct group of uncertain affinities (possibly sponges), built reefs. Other groups, such as the Bryozoa have been important interstitial organisms, living between the framework builders. The corals which build reefs today, the Scleractinia, arose after the Permian–Triassic extinction event that wiped out the earlier rugose corals (as well as many other groups), and became increasingly important reef builders throughout the Mesozoic Era. They may have arisen from a rugose coral ancestor. Rugose corals built their skeletons of calcite and have a different symmetry from that of the scleractinian corals, whose skeletons are aragonite. However, there are some unusual examples of well-preserved aragonitic rugose corals in the late Permian. In addition, calcite has been reported in the initial post-larval calcification in a few scleractinian corals. Nevertheless, scleractinian corals (which arose in the middle Triassic) may have arisen from a non-calcifying ancestor independent of the rugosan corals (which disappeared in the late Permian).