Atlantic Blacktip Shark

Carcharhinus limbatus


  • Blackfin sharks, Blacktip whalers, Grey sharks, Requiem sharks, Spot-fin ground sharks


  • U.S. wild-caught from New England to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico



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Blacktip shark in the water. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries.


The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) is a large, coastal shark species that is found all around the world in warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters. It primarily lives in shallow coastal waters and offshore surface waters of the continental shelves, which means it could be vulnerable to human-induced impacts to its habitat and fishing. Because it prefers warm coastal waters, it also often encounters humans. It is known for leaping and spinning out of the water while feeding on schools of fish.

In both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, blacktip sharks are one of the primary shark species sought out by fishermen. Its meat is high quality and marketed fresh, frozen, or dried and salted. Currently, more blacktip sharks are landed commercially and recreationally than any other large coastal shark species. While fishing for blacktip sharks, fishermen may catch other species of sharks, fin fish, or protected species (also known as bycatch).

In 2006, scientists determined that within the Atlantic Ocean, there were two stocks of blacktip sharks: one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Atlantic. In 2012, scientists determined that the stock found in the Gulf of Mexico is not overfished, meaning there are enough blacktip sharks available to keep the stock sustainable. Scientists also determined that overfishing is not occurring; this means that fishermen are not catching more sharks than the population can replace. There is currently insufficient scientific information to determine the status of the Atlantic stock. Due to this uncertainty, in 2013, NOAA Fisheries implemented a new management structure, including new limits on fishing throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Looking Ahead

In the United States, federal law prohibits “shark finning,” a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark. This practice has been prohibited by federal law since 2000, but shark conservation was further strengthened in 2010 when Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act. The Shark Conservation Act requires that all sharks in the United States, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached. In May 2013, NOAA Fisheries published a proposed rule to implement the domestic provisions of the Shark Conservation Act. Learn more.


2013 is marked by a historic conservation milestone for sharks globally. At this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties meeting in Bangkok, countries agreed to increase protection for five commercially-exploited species of sharks. NOAA Fisheries played a key role in the development and adoption of these proposals. Learn more.



The Atlantic blacktip shark is primarily a continental shelf species. It is commonly found in near shore waters (off beaches, in bays, estuaries, over coral reefs, and off river mouths), but can also be found around some oceanic islands. They can be found year-round in the Gulf of Mexico and are common from Virginia through Florida. They have also been known to migrate as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts.



The Atlantic blacktip shark is a common large, coastal species in the northwest Gulf of Mexico. They often form loose groups, segregated into separate schools of males and females when they are not mating.

Atlantic blacktip sharks mate between March and June. Females have an 11 to 12 month gestation period and give birth to an average of 3 pups per litter in the Atlantic region and 4.5 pups per litter in the Gulf of Mexico region. Females rest for one year between pregnancies. The pups are born in shallow coastal nursery grounds away from the adult population. After giving birth, the females leave the nursery areas while juveniles remain there. The species grows quickly—generally 25 to 30 centimeters in its first 6 months. The growth rate then slows to 20 centimeters per year during year two. Mature sharks add about 5 centimeters per year. Males and females mature at different times. Males mature at 4 to 5 years of age, while females mature later, at 6 to 7 years of age. One of the oldest observed blacktip sharks was 15.5 years old.

This shark species mostly eats bony fishes, smaller sharks, squid, stingrays, shrimp, and crabs. It often follows fishing boats, particularly shrimp boats, and is sometimes seen consuming discarded fish.

The Atlantic blacktip shark is often confused with the spinner shark due to its similar size, shape, coloration, and behavior. Both species are known for leaping and spinning out of the water while feeding on schools of fish. A distinguishing feature between the two species is that the anal fin (on the belly side, closest to the tail) of the blacktip shark is white while the anal fin of the spinner shark has a black tip.



The Atlantic blacktip shark can reach up to six feet in length. Its torpedo shape allows it to swim through the water with little effort. Its body is grey to grey-brown, with white on the belly, and a conspicuous wedge-shaped band or Z-shaped line on the sides. The pectoral, dorsal, and tail fins have black tips, but the anal fin is white. See our shark identification guide for more information.



NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center staff assesses the status of blacktip sharks through the SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process. Atlantic blacktip sharks are caught by countries in Central and South America and SEDAR considers Mexican data when assessing this species. Atlantic blacktip sharks are comprised of two stocks. The Gulf of Mexico stock was last assessed in 2012, and the Atlantic stock was last assessed in 2006.



In 2012 scientists assessed the Gulf of Mexico stock as part of SEDAR 29 and determined that there is no overfishing occurring and that the stock is not overfished.

In 2006 scientists assessed the Atlantic stock as part of SEDAR 11 and determined that the status of this population is unknown because there were conflicting signals from the catch-rate series and this affected the results from the models.



Coming soon...


Harvesting Blacktip Sharks

Commercial fisheries throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic target the Atlantic blacktip shark. These commercial fisheries use both bottom longline and gillnet gear. Commercial fishermen land more blacktip sharks than other large coastal sharks such as bull or hammerhead sharks. Blacktip sharks are harvested for their meat, which is often considered superior compared to the meat of many other species of sharks.

Because they are relatively common, found near shore, and often jump and spin out of the water, blacktip sharks are also important in the recreational fishery. Recreational fishermen generally use rod and reel gear when fishing for blacktip sharks.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Management Division.
Unlike some migratory shark species, there is no international management component for Atlantic blacktip sharks at this time.

Current management: The 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan includes numerous measures to rebuild or prevent overfishing of all Atlantic highly migratory species, including Atlantic sharks in commercial and recreational fisheries. Recently, the Amendment 5a final rule to the fishery management plan was implemented. This rule established a blacktip shark management group in the Gulf of Mexico and also established a Gulf of Mexico total allowable catch and commercial quota (the commercial quota is the commercial sector annual catch limit) for blacktip sharks. In the Atlantic region, in part because of their unknown status, blacktip sharks are still managed in coordination with other large coastal sharks as part of the aggregated large coastal shark management group. There are compliance guides for all regulations across all HMS fisheries available for the commercial and recreational fisheries with one specific to Amendment 5a. There is also a recreational shark identification placard available. Some of the general shark management measures that also apply to blacktip sharks include, but are not limited to:

  • Commercial quotas.
  • Commercial and recreational limits on how much shark can be landed per fishing trip.
  • Gear restrictions and requirements.
  • Commercial and recreational fishermen must have a permit to harvest sharks; there are a limited number of commercial permits available.
  • Fishing season is generally year-round; individual commercial shark fisheries close when the quota is reached.
  • Area closures to protect nursery areas, sensitive habitats, and populations.
  • Vessel monitoring system on board and active at certain times to enforce these area closures.
  • Fishermen fishing with longline or gillnet gear must complete a Protected Species Safe Handling, Release, and Identification Workshop.
  • Shark dealers are required to attend Atlantic Shark Identification workshops to help them better identify shark species.
  • Prohibited species – there are more than 20 species of sharks that cannot be landed (e.g., white, dusky, basking, longfin mako, night). Some of these species look similar to the species that can be landed. If you are unsure which species is on your line, let it go.
  • Last but not least, all sharks landed commercially or recreationally must be landed with their fins naturally attached.

Annual Harvest

In 2011, the total weight of Atlantic blacktip shark commercial landings was 712,644 pounds dressed weight (head, fins, tail and guts removed). Landings from the Gulf of Mexico region were 527,187 pounds dressed weight, and landings from the Atlantic region were 185,457 pounds dressed weight.



In 2011, on average, dealers bought blacktip shark meat from fishermen for approximately $0.40 per pound. Given that, the total ex-vessel value (the price fishermen receive for their catch) of blacktip shark landings across the fishery was approximately $285,058. Landings from the Gulf of Mexico region had an ex-vessel price of approximately $210,875, and landings from the Atlantic region had an ex-vessel price of $74,183.



In 2011, recreational anglers harvested approximately 16,005 blacktip sharks across both regions. Additionally, anglers harvested more than 35,000 unidentified large coastal sharks; many of these were probably blacktip sharks.



The meat of Atlantic blacktip sharks is considered high quality and marketed fresh, frozen, or dried and salted.



The Atlantic blacktip shark fisheries are open periodically throughout the year and closed when quotas are reached. The latest information on open and closed periods can be found here.



Shark is a low-fat source of protein and is high in selenium and vitamins B6 and B12. Shark may contain amounts of methylmercury in excess of the FDA’s recommended limit for nursing moms, moms-to-be, and young children. For more information, see EPA and FDA advice on what you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish disclaimer.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 130
Protein 21 g
Fat, total 5 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 1 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 51 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 79 mg

Shark, Mixed Species Table of Nutrition