By Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature
“Oceanic whitetip sharks return home to protected Bahamas waters, surprising scientists.
Previously thought to be wide-ranging animals, a tagging survey has revealed that the sharks frequently revisit the same areas around the island.
Conservationists have listed the sharks as Vulnerable globally and Critically Endangered in parts of their range.
Experts suggest that the island nation’s marine protected area is assisting the species.
Oceanic whitetips are named for the distinctive white flashes at the end of their fins.
They are opportunistic predators with powerful jaws and as such are considered one of the more dangerous sharks to humans, although the number of unprovoked attacks on people is small.
“Of all the sharks that live in the open ocean they’re the ones that have really declined a lot in the last few decades,” said Dr Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University, New York, US, who led the study.
“They’ve gone from being one of the most abundant large vertebrates on the planet to being considered quite endangered.”
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the sharks as Vulnerable due to over-fishing for their meat and leather, and accidental by-catch.
“Oceanic whitetips frequently take bait meant for other species like tuna and swordfish,” said Dr Chapman, explaining that their fins are prized for shark fin soup.
“Fisherman will take all of these sharks that were incidentally hooked and they will take their fins, and that is fatal to the shark.”
In July 2011, the Bahamian government banned shark fishing in all 240,000 square miles of the country’s waters.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts which works to establish shark sanctuaries, including the one in the Bahamas, the animals provided $78 million to the country’s economy in tourism annually.
“Tourism is a big part of the Bahamian economy, within that diving and shark diving in particular is very valuable,” said Liz Karan, manager of Global Shark Conservation at Pew.
“I think there’s interest in that particular area just because it’s one of the few places left in the world that have relatively healthy shark populations.”
“So without too much effort you can go and have an experience that’s really unique.”