by B. N. Sullivan
Someone we know saw a TV program about sharks, and learned that while some shark species lay eggs, others give live birth. He asked us, "Have you ever seen a pregnant shark?"
Yes, we have seen pregnant sharks, and I even managed to photograph one. At right is a photo of a pregnant White Tip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus) that I took at Sipadan Island, off the coast of Borneo. She looks like she is about ready to pop! [Click on the photo to enlarge.]
This species is known to breed in the Autumn and Winter. The gestation period is thought to be about five months. Whitetip Reef Sharks give birth to litters of two or three pups.
As soon as the pups are born they are on their own. The mama shark does not look after the pups in any way.
As a comparison, here is another photo, taken on the same dive. This second photo shows a human observer with a White Tip Reef Shark that is not pregnant. As you can see, individuals of this species are rather slender and sleek -- torpedo-shaped. The poor pregnant female above looks ungainly in contrast.
By the way, this location at Sipadan was a shark-lovers' paradise. We had never before (nor have we since) seen so many sharks in such a small area.
There were big sharks, little sharks, and medium sized sharks of assorted species. There were sharks swimming, and sharks lying on the bottom resting, sometimes lined up in rows like parked cars.
And there was one pregnant shark!