The whitetip reef shark project of Hawaii
Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology Shark Lab

Group courtship, mating behaviour, and siphon sac function in the whitetip reef shark, Triaenodon obesus. (web version)

Animal Behavior #68 Cover

Nick Whitney, University of Hawaii at Manoa


We analysed video records of three mating events involving nine free-living whitetip reef sharks in Cocos Islands, Costa Rica to examine reproductive behaviour in this species. We describe several behaviours never before documented in this species, and four behaviours never before documented in any elasmobranch. Here, we also present the first hypothesis for the function of the male’s paired reproductive organs, the siphon sacs, to be based on observations of mating sharks. We introduce terminology for three separate siphon sac structural components that are externally visible during courtship and mating in this species. Based on our analyses, as well as evidence from past mating studies, the siphon sacs in whitetip reef sharks appear to be used to propel sperm into the female’s reproductive tract, not for flushing the female’s reproductive tract of sperm from previous males. We discuss the implications of ‘group courtship’, ‘siphon isthmus constriction’, ‘reverse thrusting’, ‘postrelease gaping’ and ‘noncopulatory ejaculation’.

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