Carcharhinus brevipinnaGreat blacktip shark(Also: Large blacktip shark; Shark; Spinner Shark)

Geographic Range

Spinner sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna) are native to many tropical and temperate ocean environments. They have been noted as far north as the coast of Massachusetts near Cape Cod in the United States. Their range extends southward through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Carribbean, as far south as the most southern part of Brazil in South America. Spinner sharks have also been found throughout the Indian Ocean, ranging from South Africa to western Australia. This includes the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman. Spinner sharks have also been recorded throughout the Indo-Australian Archipelago, the China Sea, and off the north and east coasts of Australia. (Burgess, 2009; Dippenaar, et al., 2000)


Spinner sharks are found between depths of 30 to 100 m (average: 65 m). They typically live close to shore, in areas such as bays, beaches, and estuaries. Spinner sharks are also found to be pelagic in nature, meaning they are found slightly offshore in the water column, rather than near the ocean bottom. Spinner sharks are active all year in the Gulf of Mexico, the Carribbean, off the coast of southern Brazil in South America, the Indian Ocean, off the coasts of Africa and Australia, and in the southern parts of the United States. Spinner sharks migrate closer to shore during the spring and summer months, traveling north along the Middle Atlantic Bight, which includes the North American coastal region running from North Carolina up to Massachusetts. (Burgess, 2009)

  • Range depth
    30 to 100 m
    98.43 to 328.08 ft

Physical Description

Spinner sharks are about 2 m long on average, with slender bodies, small eyes, and long, narrow, pointed snouts. Spinner sharks have two dorsal fins - a large fin towards the front of their bodies, just behind their pectoral fins, and a small fin just anterior to their tails.

Spinner sharks have 32 to 39 narrow teeth in their upper jaws and 29 to 37 teeth in their lower jaws. Their teeth in their bottom jaws are more slender than those in their upper jaws. Both sets of teeth are triangular and do not recurve forward. Spinner sharks also have a unique notch near the front edge of their lower jaws.

Spinner sharks lack an interdorsal ridge. All their fins, including their caudal lobes, are rounded off and develop black or dark gray tips as they reach maturity.

Spinner sharks are often confused with blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), although there are some major differences between the two. The first dorsal fin of blacktip sharks is located closer to the middle of their bodies, as opposed to the anterior region like spinner sharks. Blacktip sharks also have teeth that recurve forward, and they have an interdorsal ridge. (Allen and Wintner, 2010; Branstetter, 1982; Branstetter, 1987; Ebert, et al., 2013)

Spinner sharks weigh up to 89.7 kg, with an average weight of 56 kg. Males can reach lengths of 1.67 m and females can reach lengths up to 3 m.

Newborn spinner sharks are an average of 60 to 75 cm in length. Off the Atlantic coast, near Florida, young spinner sharks grew up to 20 cm in their first 6 months of life. Male spinner sharks reach maturity at lengths of 1.6 to 2.0 m, and females reach maturity at lengths of 1.7 to 3.0 m. After reaching maturity, both sexes grow roughly 5 cm per year, reaching their maximum size at 10 to 20 years of age. Spinner sharks are ectothermic, meaning their internal body temperature is influenced by their environment. (Allen and Wintner, 2010; Branstetter, 1982; Ebert, et al., 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    89.7 (high) kg
    197.58 (high) lb
  • Average mass
    56 kg
    123.35 lb
  • Range length
    1.6 to 3 m
    5.25 to 9.84 ft
  • Average length
    2 m
    6.56 ft


Newborn spinner shark pups can be between 60 to 75 cm on average. Spinner sharks grow 20 cm within their first 6 months of life. Spinner sharks show determinate growth, growing approximately 5 cm per year until they reach full-size at around 3 m. It takes spinner sharks 10 to 20 years to reach full size.

Male and female spinner sharks can be distinguished in a number of ways. Females are often larger than males, with females reaching maximum sizes of 3 m and males reaching sizes of 1.67 m. Females and males both have cloacas, which are essential for breeding and also for elimination of waste. However, males also have external claspers near their cloacas, which are essential for mating. The claspers of immature males are often more subtle than those of adult males, although they are still visible. (Allen and Wintner, 2010; Branstetter, 1987; Ebert, et al., 2013)


Spinner sharks are polygynandrous, meaning both males and females have multiple mates throughout their lifetime. Males select female mates, although there are no known courtship behaviors or displays of attraction. There is no evidence for males choosing a mate based on physical size, health, or the age of the mate. Instead, mate selection appears purely random. The defending of mates of either sex has not been documented.

Spinner sharks travel to inshore nurseries from March to May to breed. (Ebert, et al., 2013)

Spinner sharks exhibit internal fertilization. They are iteroparous and give birth once every other year during the spring and summer months. Spinner sharks travel to inshore nursery areas from April to May off the coast of South Africa and from March to April in the northwestern Atlantic. The gestation period lasts 11 to 15 months. Adult females have a single functional ovary and two functional uteruses. Each uterus is divided into several compartments, each of which holds an embryo. These embryos are sustained by yolk sacs, but by the time embryos reach around 19 cm, yolk sacs are fully depleted. Empty yolk sacs develop into placental connections. Females provide nutrients to their young through these placental connections for the remainder of the gestation period. Spinner sharks have the smallest-known ovum size when compared to the size of fully developed embryos for any viviparous shark.

Spinner sharks have between 3 and 20 live young, birthing 2 pups at a time. There is no recorded birth mass for newborn pups. Spinner sharks are independent from the time of birth.

Sexual maturity and maximum size in spinner sharks are determined by their length. Male spinner sharks reach sexual maturity between 4 and 5 years old, at about 1.3 . Female spinner sharks reach sexual maturity between 7 and 8 years old, at 1.5 to 1.6 m. Though spinner sharks reach sexual maturity at these ages, neither sex reproduces until they reach 12 to 14 years old. (Capape, et al., 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Spinner sharks breed once every other year during spring and summer.
  • Breeding season
    Spinner sharks breed from April to May off the coast of South Africa and from March to April in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 20
  • Average number of offspring
    7 to 11
  • Range gestation period
    11 to 15 months
  • Range time to independence
    0 (low) months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    7 to 8 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 years

Female spinner sharks provide nutrition to developing pups through liver reserves, which are used in the first few weeks of life. Beyond mating and birthing young, female spinner sharks provide no parental investment. Spinner shark pups are independent immediately after birth. Males provide no parental involvement beyond the act of mating. (Allen and Wintner, 2010)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Spinner sharks live 15 to 20 years (average: 19 years) in the wild. Spinner sharks are not held in captivity, and thus there is no information on their lifespan in captive conditions. The only factor limiting lifespan is their tendency to live near coastal regions, which subjects them to commercial fishing practices. (Burgess, 2009; Garcia, 2008)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 (low) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    19 years


Spinner sharks are solitary and motile. Spinner sharks in the Gulf of Mexico are migratory, traveling closer to shore during spring and summer to feed and mate. During the winter, they migrate farther south, to the southernmost parts of Brazil, and travel out into slightly deeper waters. However, these waters are still less than 100 m deep. Younger spinner sharks thrive in lower water temperatures when compared to mature adults.

Spinner sharks are social predators. They are nocturnal and crepuscular, hunting at night or at dawn or dusk. Their unique feeding behavior involves spiraling through schools of fish and leaping out of the water. On average, spinner sharks achieve three full rotations in mid-air before finally landing on their backs in the water. (Ebert, et al., 2013)

Home Range

Pelagic shark species such as spinner sharks do not have a designated home range nor a specific territory that they defend.

Communication and Perception

There is no published evidence of communication habits particular to spinner sharks. All sharks possess lateral lines on both sides of their bodies. They use these lateral lines to detect vibrations in the water, which helps them find prey and other species of sharks in the surrounding area. Shark species also have sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, which are visible as small pores near their snouts. Ampullae of Lorenzini allow sharks to detect electrical signals traveling through water, which all organisms emit to some degree. Ampullae of Lorenzini also give sharks a natural sense of their location in the water, allowing them to navigate through their environment.

Shark species rely heavily on their sense of smell to detect prey. They can smell traces of blood from potentially wounded prey up to 5 km away. Sharks also have acute eyesight in murky or clear waters. Their pupils dilate according to light availability. Sharks also have an acute sense of hearing and are particularly sensitive to low frequencies. This allows them to hear potential prey up to 5 km away. (Ebert, et al., 2013)

Sharks are asocial. Their communication with one another is limited mainly to mating or aggressive behaviors while feeding. Normally, sharks will not kill an animal unless it is a prey item that they can swallow whole.

Sharks use body movement as a cue in communication. They emit vibrations by rolling or splashing in the water. When it comes to mating, sharks are highly aggressive. Males chase down females until females are exhausted. Males then bite the necks of females to hold on until copulation is complete, after which the two separate and swim away from each other. (Ebert, et al., 2013)

Food Habits

Spinner sharks are piscivores, meaning they feed primarily on fish. Spinner sharks feed on small, bony fish including sardines and herrings (family Clupeidae), anchovies (family Engraulidae), lizardfish (family Synodontidae), bluefish (Pomotamus saltatrix), sea catfish (family Ariidae), tunas and bonitos (family Scombridae), croakers (family Sciaenidae), jacks (Caranx lugubris), mojarras (family Gerreidae), grunts (family Haemulidae), ten-pounders (Elops saurus), tonguefishes (family Cynoglossidae), and mullets (family Mugilidae). Spinner sharks also feed on squids and octopuses (class Cephalopoda) and stingrays (superorder Batoidea). When spinner sharks seek prey, they swim in groups at a quick pace. They swallow their prey whole, since their teeth lack the sharp, recurving features that allow other shark species to tear up food items.

Spinner sharks approach groups of fishes at high speeds from below. They start a spiraling motion, moving upwards through schools of fish, and leap out of the water. This spiraling or spinning motion is the reason they are commonly called spinner sharks.

Spinner sharks are known to congregate around commercial shrimp vessels, waiting for leftover catch. Spinner sharks also participate in feeding frenzies. (Burgess, 2009; Ebert, et al., 2013)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates


When confronted with predators, spinner sharks may bite or lash their tails, or they attempt to flee. After females give birth in nurseries near shore, shark pups travel out to slightly deeper water, usually less than 30 m deep, for protection from predators. Spinner sharks also exhibit countershading, wherein their dorsal sides are dark in color and their ventral sides are light. This makes it more difficult for predators or prey to detect spinner sharks from above or below. The only known predators of spinner sharks are larger shark species (though no specific species are reported), and humans (Homo sapiens). (Fowler, et al., 2005; Goldstein, 2000)

  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

Spinner sharks serve as hosts for parasitic copepods of the family Kroyeriidae, which live within gill structures. Kroyeria deetsi infects the gills of both sexes of spinner sharks. This small family of parasitic copepods only infects gills of cartilaginous fishes (class Chondrichthyes). Spinner sharks also serve as hosts for monogean ectoparasites in the genus Dermophthirius. The species Dermophthirius pennersi was first discovered on spinner sharks.

Spinner sharks prey on many fish species, as well as octopuses, squids, cuttlefishes, and stingrays. Spinner sharks serve as prey for larger shark species and humans Homo sapiens. (Benz, 2011; Burgess, 2009; Dippenaar, et al., 2000; Ebert, et al., 2013)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Copepod (Kroyeria deetsi)
  • Monogenean (Dermophthirius penneri)
  • Monogenean (Dermophthirius carcharhini)
  • Monogenean (Dermophthirius maccallumi)
  • Monogenean (Dermophthirius nigrellii)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Spinner sharks are considered part of recreational fishing practices and are targeted mainly by commercial fisheries and fishing vessels. Spinner sharks are a common commercial fishing species because they inhabit coastal areas near human settlements. Humans (Homo sapiens) use spinner shark fins as an ingredient in shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in parts of Asia. Meat from spinner sharks is also used for other food delicacies, and their skin is used in leather-making. Humans extract oil from spinner shark livers and sell it in capsules as shark liver oil vitamins. Shark liver oil is sometimes used alongside cancer treatment drugs. Humans also apply shark liver oil directly to their skin, presumably to help with skin conditions. (Burgess, 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Spinner sharks have no known negative economic impacts on humans (Homo sapiens). However, spinner sharks can become agitated if potential prey is nearby, and they are known to attack humans in such situations. As of 2008, the International Shark Attack File listed one provoked attach and 16 unprovoked attacks on humans by spinner sharks. None of these recorded attacks were fatal. (Ebert, et al., 2013)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Spinner sharks are listed as "near threatened" on the IUCN Red List and "vulnerable" in the northwest Atlantic region. There is no special status for spinner sharks in the CITES appendices, the United States Endangered Species Act, or the State of Michigan list.

Spinner sharks are mainly targeted and caught by commercial fisheries. Popular demand for meat from blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) often leads to meat from spinner sharks falsely advertised as blacktip shark meat, since the two species are similar in appearance. Spinner shark fins are often dried and shipped to parts of Asia, where they are used in shark fin soup. Their skin is often used in preparing leather products, while oil from their livers are used in vitamins and skin products. There are currently no conservation actions in place for spinner sharks. (Burgess, 2009)


Stephen Archer (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Emily Clark (editor), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado State University, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


active at dawn and dusk


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


uses electric signals to communicate


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Allen, B., S. Wintner. 2010. Age and growth of the spinner shark Carcharhinus brevipinna (Müller and Henle, 1839) off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa. South African Journal of Marine Science, 24/1: 1-8.

Benz, G. 2011. Dermophthirius penneri sp. n. (Monogenea: Microbothriidae) an ectoparasite of carcharhinid sharks, Carcharhinus brevipinna and Carcharhinus limbatus. Department of Zoology, 54/2: 185-190.

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Branstetter, S. 1982. Problems associated with the identification and separation of the spinner shark, Carcharhinus brevipinna, and the blacktip shark, Carcharhinus limbatus. Coepia, 1982/2: 461-465.

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Cheung, P., G. Ruggieri. 1983. Dermophthirius nigrellii n. sp. (Monogenea: Microbothriidae), an ectoparasite from the skin of the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, 102/1: 129-134.

Dippenaar, S., G. Benz, P. Olivier. 2000. Kroyeria deetsi n.sp. (Kroyeriidae: Siphonostomatoida), a parasitic copepod infecting gills of spinner sharks, Carcharhinus brevipinna (Müller & Henle, 1839), in the Indian Ocean. African Zoology, 35/2: 185-192.

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Garcia, 2008. The importance of habitat and life history to extinction risk in sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras. Proc Biol Sci, 275: 83-89.

Goldstein, R. 2000. Coastal Fishing in the Carolinas: From Surf, Pier, and Jetty. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: J.F. Blair.

Heupel, M., R. Hueter. 2002. Importance of prey density in relation to the movement patterns of juvenile blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) within a coastal nursery area. Marine and Freshwater Research, 53/2: 543-550.

Hussey, N., S. Wintner, S. Dudley, G. Cliff, D. Cocks, M. Macneil. 2010. Maternal investment and size-specific reproductive output in Carcharhinid sharks. Journal of Animal Ecology, 79/1: 184-193.

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