Nearshore sharks (malie)
The sharks (malie) living in our nearshore waters are generally not dangerous to swimmers or divers but they may swim close by to see who’s in their area. The most common species are the blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus). These are not large sharks, usually about 4-5 feet in length, although everyone swears that the one they saw was bigger. They grow slowly and give live birth to a few pups who swim away and are on their own. Both species feed on fish and shellfish. They are attracted to wounded and bleeding fish, which accounts for several shark encounters with divers who had tied speared fish around their waists. Need it be suggested that this is not a smart thing to do?
The blacktip will quickly swim away, but on rare occasions small blacktips will sometimes startle a person by swimming directly at them. They look like a little torpedo coming straight at you, but other than your brief panic attack, no harm is done. The whitetip has an unusual habit of resting occasionally on the seafloor or in caves during the daytime.
From an ecological perspective, we do have a shark problem. There are not many of them, indeed it is uncommon to even see a shark while snorkeling or diving in American Samoa. Reasons for this are not clear. The local harvest of sharks is not large — they are not targeted by local fishermen. Perhaps fishing pressure was greater in the past or sharks may simply be unable to withstand much fishing at all. It is now well known that sharks in general are quite vulnerable to fishing pressure and are slow to recover because of their low growth and birth rates. The plight of many shark species worldwide has become an issue not just because of their decreasing numbers but because sharks play a key role in maintaining healthy coral reefs. As top predators, their removal disrupts the ecological balance of the reef ecosystem.