The common blacktip shark is never listed in Internet and television lists of the most dangerous sharks.
Yet if you look at the raw numbers from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), you will see they should be.
While blacktips were only positively identified in one unprovoked fatality they were responsible for 29 total attacks.
That puts only the great white, tiger and bull-the three species everyone recognizes as potentially dangerous above them. We wrote about this last year here but have some new insight.
ISAF has a category for requiem and lamniforems-attacks linked to thosebranches but not to exact species and those are both higher than the blacktip. But when it comes to identified sharks biting people blacktips rank fourth.
This is not to implicate the blacktip as a creature to be feared. It is however to question some of the shark attacks identified as bull and to lesser extent spinner sharks (which have 16 attacks attribute to them.)
Spinner sharks are nearly identical to blacktips and bull sharks and big blacktips can appear similar especially in murky water.
The identification issue is noted by ISAF.
This list must be used with caution because attacks involving easily identified species, such as white, tiger, sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks, nearly always identify the attacking species, while cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, seldom correctly identify the attacker.
Blacktips are the most common large shark to be found in the Gulf of Mexico. They are highly abundant along many beaches and probably come into contact with people more than any other large shark.
While the bull shark is common and sort of jacked up on testosterone, blacktips are even more abundant and frequently prey on schools of mullet, menhaden, pompano and other fish on the beachfront.
In my opinion some of the “bull shark” attacks on fishermen in particular are probably blacktips. Wade fishermen routinely carry belts with fish stringers and I have personally witnessed numerous blacktips hitting stringers. I have seen bulls circle anglers and have heard of one attacking a stringer but blacktips are far more often the culprit here.
Bulls have a bad reputation so they might be getting a little more blame on some of the attacks that do not involve fatalities and outright brutal attacks.
An interesting note from ISAF is that blacktips have been known to attack surfers in Florida.
Is it possible they are experiencing the same kind of phenomenon great whites do in seal-rich waters of the Pacific but instead of pinnipeds they relate it to the silhouette of sea turtles?
Blacktip sharks are amazing creatures that have the respect of anglers due to their incredible acrobatics when hooked. Most anglers catch-and-release them these days respecting their role in the ecosystem.
Perhaps with this knowledge they might respect them a little more-and be a little more cautious when toting around a stringer of speckled trout or pompano in the surf.
Chester Moore, Jr.