In older literature, the scientific name of this species was often given as C. menisorrah.[5] The blacktail reef shark (C. wheeleri), native to the western Indian Ocean, is now regarded as the same species as the grey reef shark by most authors. It was originally distinguished from the grey reef shark by a white tip on the first dorsal fin, a shorter snout, and one fewer upper tooth row on each side.[6] Based on morphological characters, vertebral counts, and tooth shapes, Garrick (1982) concluded the grey reef shark is most closely related to the silvertip shark (C. albimarginatus).[7] This interpretation was supported by a 1992 allozyme phylogenetic analysis by Lavery.[8]

The coloration is grey above, sometimes with a bronze sheen, and white below. The entire rear margin of the caudal fin has a distinctive, broad, black band. There are dusky to black tips on the pectoral, pelvic, second dorsal, and anal fins.[9] Individuals from the western Indian Ocean have a narrow, white margin at the tip of the first dorsal fin; this trait is usually absent from Pacific populations.[5] Grey reef sharks that spend time in shallow water eventually darken in color, due to tanning.[10] Most grey reef sharks are less than 1.9 m (6.2 ft) long.[4] The maximum reported length is 2.6 m (8.5 ft) and the maximum reported weight is 33.7 kg (74 lb).[9]
This species is commonly found in shallow waters on and near coral reefs and occasionally in brackish waters. Juveniles are typically found in extremely shallow water (±15 to 100 cm) inside lagoons, often swimming along the shoreline; adults typically occur on shallow parts of the forereef, often moving over the reef crest and onto the reef flat at flood tide. Individual adults inhabit a relatively small home range of ±2.5 km2 and appear to reside close to their home reef but occasionally cross deepwater channels between adjacent reefs.

The Caribbean reef shark was originally described from off the coast of Cuba as Platypodon perezi by Poey in 1876. Bigelow and Schroeder later described the same species as Carcharhinus springeri in 1944 and the reef shark appears in much literature under this scientific name. The genus name Carcharhinus is derived from the Greek “karcharos” = sharpen and “rhinos” = nose. The currently accepted valid name is C. perezi (Poey 1876).

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Ancient reefs buried within stratigraphic sections are of considerable interest to geologists because they provide paleo-environmental information about the location in Earth's history. In addition, reef structures within a sequence of sedimentary rocks provide a discontinuity which may serve as a trap or conduit for fossil fuels or mineralizing fluids to form petroleum or ore deposits.
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