Rare photos of blacktip reef sharks ‘beaching’

By Gemma Chilton 15 June 2016
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A lucky photographer captured these amazing photos of blacktip reef sharks beaching themselves in pursuit of a school of bait fish.

A RARE SPECTACLE has been photographed on Lizard Island on the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland – up to 15 blacktip reef sharks beaching themselves to herd and capture their prey.

Melbourne-based photographer Christian Pearson was visiting the island for an unrelated commercial project last month when he spotted the fascinating scene.

Blacktip reefsharks

Seagulls got in on the action, hoping for an opportunistic feed. (Image: Christian Pearson, supplied)

“I had some down time from my commercial assignment when I heard some birds making a grand commotion down on the beach,” said Christian.

“Being a keen wildlife photographer and observer, I grabbed my camera and ran down to the beach to find a group of blacktip reef sharks herding a shoal of fish along the shoreline before charging them at great speed and in the process beaching themselves.

“The sharks came so far up the beach they needed to wriggle their way sometimes flipping themselves onto their backs back down into the water.” 

Blacktip reefsharks

Blacktip reefsharks

Black tip reef sharks are found in shallow marine waters around coral reefs. Due to their small size, they are not considered dangerous to people. (Images: Christian Pearson, supplied)

According to Dr Lyle Vail AM, co-Director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, Christian was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to witness this relatively rare event.

“This is not something you could reliably hope to see on a visit to the island,” said Lyle, who is based on Lizard Island. Lyle added that he witnesses similar behaviour only once every year or two.

Christian said there were about 15 of the sharks in total, along with several other large predatory fish following in their wake. “Sharks were rushing the shoreline at incredible speed and the seagulls were at their opportunistic best snapping up any fish that had been knocked onto the beach in the process,” he said. 

Lyle said not much is known about this hunting behaviour in blacktip reef sharks as it “isn’t really predictable enough to study,” he said.

Blacktip reefsharks

The spectacle is rare but not unheard of, and a great showcase of the sharks’ speed and cooperation. (Image: Christian Pearson, supplied)

Blacktip reef sharks are one of three common shark species found at Lizard Island, along with whitetip and grey reef sharks.

Lizard Island is located on the Great Barrier Reef, 270km north of Cairns. The Lizard Island Research Station is a world-leading coral reef research facility located on the island and operated by the Australian Museum.

More of Christian’s photography can be viewed on his Instagram, Facebook or website.