The Islands of Tahiti is home to one of the most spectacular marine biosystems in the world. Sharks, known as ma’o in Tahitian, are one of the marvels of this diverse marine life. Predators of the highest order, they are an essential part of the complex ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean, but are still relatively unknown by man. Despite their fierce reputation, sharks are generally inoffensive because of the abundance of other prey in the waters of The Islands of Tahiti.
You can find blacktip and gray reef sharks all over French Polynesia, but if you want to observe the many other species in our waters, then the best places to go are Fakarava, Tikehau, Rangiroa, Bora Bora, Tahiti, Moorea and the Marquesas Islands. Sharks are attracted to the best dive sites by the abundance of prey, such as large fish, sea turtles and rays. Depending on the time of year and the site, divers can encounter whale sharks, (the biggest fish in the world), tiger sharks, hammerheads and bull sharks. They are not aggressive towards men, but you shouldn’t try to interact with them. Simply observe them and respect the recommended safety distance. Remember, feeding the sharks is strictly forbidden.
Where to observe sharks in The Islands of Tahiti
Blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), known as mauri or vaki in the puamotu language of the Tuamotu Islands, is the most frequently observed shark in the waters of French Polynesia. They are curious, fearful and lively creatures, that you generally find near the shore, on the shallow reefs and inside the lagoons. The whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), known as mamaru in puamotu, is the second most common shark in The Islands of Tahiti.
The silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) can be seen in the passes of Rangiroa and Tikehau. They usually swim at depths of 15 to 40 meters during the day and closer to the surface at night. The gray reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), lives in the coral reefs and lagoons of Rangiroa and Tikehau, where they gather at a cleaning station, a place where smaller creatures congregate and clean parasites from their skin. The milk shark (Rhizoprionodon acutus) can be found close to the motu Paio in Rangiroa. The great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) also dwells in the waters of Rangiroa and Tikehau?
Sharks, an endangered species
Blacktip, whitetip and hammerhead sharks are all species threatened with extinction on the world scale, because of overfishing and the destruction of their habitat. Climate change has also been identified as a potential menace to their survival. Their populations have dwindled and they are now considered endangered species.
Sharks are important spiritual symbols in The Islands of Tahiti. They are considered protective icons in ancient ma’ohi culture and are said to be incarnations of family ancestors. The shark is thus a vital link between the past and the present. It is essential to respect the measures that have been put in place to ensure the survival of these majestic creatures.