Sharks & Rays
Subtropical waters of Atlantic Ocean, Indo-Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean
Coastal to open ocean (pelagic)
Order Carcharhiniformes (ground sharks), Family Carcharhinidae (requiem sharks)
A fast and agile predator, the spinner shark feeds unlike any other shark species by spinning out of the water in quick bursts of speed to catch a meal. This slender shark is often mistaken for a blacktip shark because its fins have gray or black tips. The spinner shark has a worldwide distribution and is frequently caught by commercial fishers, making the shark a near threatened species today.
Aside from black tips on the dorsal, pelvic and anal fins, the spinner shark is gray or tinted copper with faint bands of white coloring along the sides of its body. The spinner shark’s slim body is essential to its feeding strategy, which involves leaping from the surface of the water. With its mouth wide open, this shark will pick up speed underwater through schools of fish, like sardines, herring and tuna, and spin in mid-air along the axis of its body while snapping its jaws for pieces of fish. The teeth of a spinner shark are narrow and triangular on both the upper and lower jaws. While this shark’s jaws are powerful enough to cut through fish and even smaller sharks and squid, the spinner shark is not considered dangerous to humans.
The spinner shark lives in subtropical waters in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, parts of South America and in the Indo-West Pacific, including the Red Sea, Japan and Australia. The northwest Atlantic subpopulation is known to be highly migratory, forming schools of several individuals and traversing the coasts of Florida and Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico to reproduce and feed during the spring and summer. This shark is not a deep-sea swimmer, but instead prefers inshore to offshore waters no more than 350 feet deep, and juvenile spinner sharks may move into shallower bays with tides. Spinner sharks will grow to be about six to ten feet in length by adulthood, growing roughly two inches a year until maturity at 10 to 20 years old. It has been said that smaller spinner sharks are found in the Atlantic, while the populations of spinner sharks in the Indo-West Pacific grow to a larger size. Like other requiem shark species, the spinner shark is viviparous and will give birth to live young. An average litter size is 3 to 15 pups that will quickly move into shallow estuaries where food is abundant and predators are few.
The spinner shark is listed as near threatened today by the IUCN Red List largely due to fishing pressures. This shark is commonly targeted by commercial fishers in the southeast U.S. and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. When caught, meat from a spinner shark is often sold under the name blacktip shark because the two species look so much alike, which means catch of this threatened species is likely underreported. Dried fins from spinner sharks are shipped to the Far East to be used in shark fin soup, a traditional delicacy in parts of Asia.
Fun Facts About Spinner Sharks
1. Spinner sharks are named for their habit of leaping out of the water and rotating up to three times in the air before falling back into the water.
2. Spinner sharks hunt schools of small fish by swimming upward through the bait ball with their mouths open wide, all while spinning.1
3. Spinner sharks can leap up to 20 feet (6.1 m) in the air.
4. Spinner sharks reach a maximum length of 9.1 feet (2.7 m).
5. Spinner sharks live in shallow water and can be found anywhere from 0 to 328 feet (0-100 m) deep.2
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