The idyllic island of Koh Phi Phi on the west coast of Thailand is famous for once, briefly, being home to Leonard DiCaprio and friends during the filming of the hit movie ‘The Beach‘. Koh Phi Phi's surrounding waters are also home to some amazing sea creatures. The diving here is exceptional, with great biodiversity, good macro critters, plenty of turtles and stunning corals, but for me, the big draw is the sharks…
The idyllic island of Koh Phi Phi on the west coast of Thailand is famous for once, briefly, being home to Leonard DiCaprio and friends during the filming of the hit movie ‘The Beach‘. Koh Phi Phi surrounding waters are also home to some amazing sea creatures. The diving here is exceptional, with great biodiversity, good macro critters, plenty of turtles and stunning corals, but for me, the big draw is the sharks…
The Leopard Shark
Common Names: Leopard shark, Zebra shark.
Latin Name: Stegostoma fasciatum.
Identification: Body scalloped with two distinct ridges running from behind head along each flank into caudal fin (tail). The immense caudal fin is almost as long as the body. First and second dorsal fins low and long with a free rear margin. Pectorals well-developed. Body colouration cream, yellow, or greenish-yellow, with dense black spots. Juveniles have vertical lines of black on cream. Hence the two common names of leopard or zebra shark.
Size: Maximum length 3.5m. 25cm at birth. Colouration changes at around 90cm.
Habitat: Inshore and offshore adjacent to reefs.
Abundance and distribution: Red Sea south to South Africa, west to Indonesia and Samoa and from Japan to Australia.
Behaviour: Usually seen resting on the sand or rubble adjacent to reefs during the day. Hunts in same area nocturnally. Feeds on molluscs, crustaceans, and occasionally on bony fishes. The leopard shark is quite approachable, and it’s possible to get nice and close for a photograph.
Reproduction: Oviparous. Up to four purple to brown egg cases are laid at a time. During mating the male bites on to the pectoral fin of the female. Juveniles are rarely seen and probably inhabit waters deeper than recreational scuba allows.
The Blacktipped Reef Shark
Common Names: Black-tipped reef shark, Indo-Pacific black-tip shark, black-tip shark.
Latin Name: Carcharhinus melanopterus
Identification: Well defined black tips on all fins. Dorsal fin tip black/white demarcation line extremely distinct and unique. Dorsal colouration grey/tan. Ventrum (underside) is white. Snout is short and bluntly rounded.
Size: Maximum length 2m. Size at birth 45-75cm.
Habitat: Very shallow coral reef flats and slopes. Occasionally on deeper reefs and in brackish water.
Distribution: Indo-west Pacific Red Sea to southern East Africa including Madagascar. Present along much of the shallow coastline of the Indian Ocean and throughout South East Asia from Southern Japan to northern Australia. Abundant in many South Pacific Island chains including much of French Polynesia. Also present in the Mediterranean (via the Suez Canal).
Behaviour: Swims constantly either alone or in small groups. Does not school. Black-tipped reef sharks are a very shy shark, and it can be difficult to get close enough for a photograph.
Reproduction: Viviparous (live young). Litter number 2-4.
Most likely if you do come and dive at Koh Phi Phi the sharks you would encounter would be either the leopard shark or the black-tipped reef shark. But occasionally we are lucky enough to be graced with the presence of the world’s biggest fish…
If you’d like to come to Koh Phi Phi and learn more about these, and other sharks, then you should consider taking the PADI Reef Shark Awareness course. This course will teach all about shark biology and behaviour and help you to learn to identify sharks not only to species, but also to gender. You will also learn about the current threats to sharks from man, and what you can do to help…
If you are a PADI Instructor, you can also complete the PADI Specialty Instructor Training course with me and become qualified to help spread the word about the plight of th world’s sharks too. For further details, send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions…