Whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) are found in clear shallow waters surrounding coral reefs ranging from the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, South Pacific and all the way to portions of the Eastern Pacific near Panama and Costa Rico. Their wide distribution is a testament to their success and adaptability in nature, which has allowed them to fluorish and spread throughout the southern hemisphere. Although there have been reports of Whitetip reef sharks in depths upwards of 300 meters (1,000 feet), they are most commly found in shallow waters between 10 to 50 meters in depth.
Rarely coming near the waters surface, Whitetip reef sharks are capable of lying motionless on the sea bottom or reef ledge for long periods of time. During daylight hours, Whitetip reef sharks form groups of individual in caves and rocky crevices, where they rest in preparations for the nights hunting. During the nighttime hours they will patrol the reef and nearby reef flats hunting for small bony fish and a variety of invertebrates on which to feed. Unlike open water shark species, the Whitetip reef shark will many months or even years at a time in a relatively small home range provided there is adequate food and little pressure from larger predators.
Like most marine shark species, the Whitetip reef shark is only suitable for advanced marine aquarium hobbyists with very large aquariums and advanced filtration systems. However, they are more aquarium friendly than some of the other reef sharks available within the aquarium hobby, like the Blacktip reef shark or Nurse shark. Unlike the Blacktip reef shark, the Whitetip can lay motionless for long periods of time by pumping water through its gills and unlike the Nurse shark stays relatively small and thin bodied. Whitetip reef sharks will most often grow to about 5 feet in length in the aquarium environment, and will maintain a relatively slender body. Where as the Blacktip reef shark requires a very large swimming area (15 foot diameter or more) to support its constant movement and burst/glide swimming motion, while the Nurse shark requires a huge aquarium (8000 plus gallons) to support its upwards of 14 feet in length, the Whitetip reef shark can do well in larger aquariums of around 2000 gallons.
Despite being better suited for aquarium life than most sharks species, there are still from serious considerations any hobbyist thinking of keeping a Whitetip reef shark needs to think about. Despite being small and slender for a shark, they still reach a sizeable 5 feet in length and produce a large amount of biological waste compared to typical marine aquarium species like Tangs, Angels, Triggers, Groupers, etc. Also while a relatively small and slender shark species, they are still huge compared to the average aquarium fish and require a very large aquarium 12 feet or more in length, 8 to 10 feet in width and 4 to 5 feet in depth.
First and fore most the Whitetip reef shark requires a very large aquarium with a large footprint and a reasonable height of at least 3-4 feet depth. Secondly, they will need strong waterflow, high levels of dissolved oxygen and a robust filtration system that can turn over the aquarium at least 6 times or more per hour and handle the high biological load that a larger fish like a Whitetip reef shark can put on a filtration system.
The aquarium should be designed with the size, strength and unique requirements of marine sharks in mind. All equipment like heaters, drain tubes, etc. should be kept outside of the main display tank and instead heaters should be in the sump and drains and returns flush mounted in the aquarium. The top of the aquarium should be tightly covered and well secured to keep curious and sometimes rauchous sharks from accidentally jumping out of the aquarium. The substrate should consist of sand or a sand / crushed coral mix in order to not irritate the underside of the shark while at rest and to facilitate their natural hunting methods which include turning up the substrate looking for invertebrates. Rock work and aquascaping should take into account the size the shark and their need for plenty of swimming area, while still providing large caves or crevices in which they can seek shelter when needed.
Lastly tank mates shoud include a mix of larger fish species that will not be consumed as food by the sharks, but not so aggressive or large themselves that they would either pick on or see the Whitetip as food. Good choices of tank mates include: larger grouper, grunts, Large Angelfish and large open water Tangs. Poor choices include: ultra aggressive Triggerfish (Titan Triger, ect.) Octopus, much larger shark species (Bull Shark, Lemon Shark, etc.) and much larger grouper species (Bumblebee, etc.).
Whitetip reef sharks are specialists at preying on a variety of bottom dwelling prey like crabs, lobsters, octopus and other bottom dwelling inverts. They are also adept at feeding on bony fish species ranging from damselfishes all they way to larger species like Triggers, Tangs and Angelfish. They are very active nighttime feeders who can easily get into reef caves, crevices and into the substrate to suck out and consume any manner of fish or invertebrate. Hobbyists should feed them a variety of meaty marine items including: squid, chopped fish, mussels, clams, shrimp or other similar marine based meaty items. They should be fed 2 to 3 times per week and the hobbyist will need to monitor their overall health and girth to determine the right amount of food to feed at each feeding. It is best to feed them an amount they will consume with 10 minutes or less and pare down the amount fed based on visual inspection of their girth and overall wellness. Feeding a wide variety of meaty marine based foods and soaking the foods in a vitamin rich supplement designed for marine sharks will help ensure that they receive all the nutrients and minerals that they need in order to maintain a healthy immune system.