Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)

Spinner shark underwater
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Spinner shark fact file

Spinner shark description

GenusCarcharhinus (1)

The spinner shark is a long, slender-bodied shark, so named for its habit of leaping from the water, when hooked or pursuing prey, and spinning in mid-air along the axis of its body (2) (3). This species has greyish-bronze upperparts fading to white on the underside, with a faint white band running along the sides. The fins are slender, with pointed or rounded tips. In some large juveniles and adults, distinctive black or grey tips may be found on the pelvic, dorsal and anal fins, as well as on the upper lobe of the caudal fin (4).

Length: up to 3 metres (2)

Spinner shark biology

A fast and agile predator, the spinner shark preys on a variety of pelagic, bony fish including sardines, herrings, mullet and tunas, but will also take small sharks, cuttlefish, squids and octopi (1) (4). This species employs an unusual method of hunting, which involves swimming rapidly through schools of fish, spinning on its axis, and snapping in all directions at the scattering prey, culminating in an impressive leap from the water surface. Although high-up in the food chain, the spinner shark does occasionally fall prey to larger shark species, with the smaller juveniles and sub-adults being especially vulnerable (4).

Populations of the spinner shark found in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Florida and Louisiana are known to be highly migratory, forming schools that move inshore during the spring and summer to reproduce and feed (4) (5). Like many shark species, the female spinner shark gives birth to live young (2) (4), producing between 3 and 15 well-developed offspring after a gestation period of around 12 to 15 months (4). The newborn sharks quickly move into shallow estuarine waters where sources of food are numerous and predation pressure is less intense (4).

Despite the fearsome reputation of many large sharks, few are considered to be dangerous to humans. Only thirteen attacks have ever been recorded for this species, none of which have proven to be fatal (4). As with other shark species, the real cause for concern is the threat posed to the spinner shark by humans (6).


Spinner shark range

The spinner shark has a worldwide distribution, occurring in most of the world’s major oceans, mainly within subtropical, coastal waters (1).


Spinner shark habitat

The spinner shark is generally found in subtropical inshore or nearshore waters, from shallow regions within bays, to depths of up to 100 metres (4).


Spinner shark status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List. North-west Atlantic subpopulation classified as Vulnerable (VU) (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Spinner shark threats

Due to the fact that the spinner shark is a common, widespread species found in nearshore habitats, it suffers from heavy recreational and commercial fishing pressure, especially in the north-west Atlantic. The meat is used for human consumption, the liver for vitamin oil production, and the fins are likely to be sold in the oriental shark trade. This exploitation is compounded by the fact that the spinner shark’s nursery grounds are found inshore. Therefore a large proportion of sharks caught may be pregnant females, while the estuary-dwelling pups may suffer significantly from the effects of human-induced habitat degradation (1).


Spinner shark conservation

While there are no specific conservation measures targeting the spinner shark (1), several conservation organisations, such as the Save Our Seas Foundation, the Shark Research Institute, the Shark Trust, and Bite-back, are working diligently to eliminate unsustainable shark fishing practices (5) (6) (7) (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Relating to an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
Caudal fin
The tail fin of a fish.
Relating to the unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Inhabiting the water column of the open ocean.
Relating to the pair of fins found on the underside of the body of fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2009)
  2. Bannister, K. (1993) The Book of the Shark. New Burlington Books, London.
  3. MarineBio (March, 2009)
  4. Florida Museum of Natural History (March, 2009)
  5. FishBase (March, 2009)
  6. Save Our Seas Foundation (March, 2009)
  7. Shark Research Institute (March, 2009)
  8. The Shark Trust (March, 2009)

Image credit

Spinner shark underwater  
Spinner shark underwater

© Valerie Taylor / www.ardea.com

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