The Tiger Shark, also called Galeocerdo Cuvier in the scientific community, is the only member of the Galeocerdo genus. This shark is an aggressive predator and is found mostly in tropical and warm waters. Being larger than its requiem cousins, they can grow up to a length of 15 – 16 feet or 5 meters and can weigh around 1,800 pounds or 800 kilograms. Imagine having one of those on the end of your fishing pole! There have been isolated cases where they get much larger than that. Also called The Sea Tiger, they get their name from the tiger like stripes on the body which fades away as it grows older. They also earned the nickname The Wastebasket Of The Sea because they will eat virtually anything, including human garbage and trash which floats out to sea.
Found around the Pacific Islands, the they prefer to hunt in the dark. Their normal prey includes smaller shark species and a variety of fish, dolphins, birds, turtles, crustaceans and squid. In turn they are hunted by humans for game and finning. Because this shark enjoys visiting canals, harbors and shallow reefs, which are often areas used by humans, a Tiger Shark is considered dangerous and has the second largest number of attack data after the Great White Shark. It is also prone to being fished out frequently.
This is a prize catch for many fisheries, especially in tropical locations. The sharks skin, fins, liver and flesh are considered to be delicacies. More specifically, the liver is very rich in vitamin A and is used to manufacture vitamin pills. Due to such heavy fishing practices, the population of this shark has dwindled.
Currently, the Tiger Shark is considered near threatened due to its hunting by humans. They’ve also been recently put on the Marine red list, which makes it illegal to fish or hunt Tiger Sharks across the world.
This shark prefers warm waters and tropical temperatures. Although this shark is a nomad, its movements are almost always guided by water temperatures and deep waters. Even though they are known to prefer deep water, they will sometimes come into shallower water to enter reefs and canals in pursuit of prey.
They are abundantly found in the Caribbean region in addition to the North American beaches, and the Gulf of Mexico. They are also found near New Zealand, Australia, India, Africa and China. While most Tiger Sharks are found in those regions, they have also been spotted as far South as Cape Cod and as far North as Japan.
Found at average depths of around 350 meters (about 1100 feet), they have also been seen at depths exceeding 900 meters or about 3,000 feet (more than a half mile). Conversely, they have been spotted in the shallow waters of Hawaii in a depth of only about 10 feet. That’s considered to be way too shallow for its size. In coastal waters, they can also be seen at depths between 20 feet to 40 feet. Because of their habits of entering canals and harbors, the risk of human encounter is quite high and this shark is considered dangerous to humans.
This species is a slow swimmer; however, they blend very well with darker seas because of their color. This makes them almost invisible to their prey and once the prey is in catching distance, the shark can muster great speeds to catch it. They are known to be one of the stronger swimmers.
Being a nocturnal creature and an aggressive hunter, they are known to even attack other sharks, especially while hunting. Thus, a Tiger Shark is predominantly an individual hunter and does not care much for social interaction, even within its own species.
Tiger Sharks are seen frequently in the shallow waters of Hawaii. Since Hawaii is a high tourist area with lots of swimmers, the rate of shark attacks in the area is surprisingly low. It is documented that about four attacks happen every year and most of them are not fatal. The most widely publicized attack in recent times is when in the year 2003, Bethany Hamilton, a young (13 years) American surfer lost her arm to an attack.
Most attacks can be attributed to tourists feeding the sharks, which is illegal. Such feeding only improves the chances of shark attacks. During the 17 year period between the late fifties and mid seventies, many (about 4,700) Tiger Sharks were killed in order to offer protection to tourists. However, that did not help reduce the attack rates. With more and more tourist partaking in shark feeding to satisfy their longing for an adventure, the risk of attack will remain.
Tiger Sharks Are Impressive Hunters
Also known as the Sea Tiger, Tiger Sharks are carnivores known to have an indiscriminate appetite, eating anything from fish and mollusks to sea turtles, dolphins, and sea lions. They’ve even been known to eat other sharks and scavenge whales. Sadly their immense appetite has lead to eat many things like oil cans, tires, and other inedible items. Once they find their prey, Tiger Sharks move slowly, often stalking, encircling, and prodding it. If possible, the Tiger Shark tries eat its prey whole to avoid injury.
Tiger Sharks also have certain adaptations that enable them to find hidden prey and hunt in the darkness of night or murky water. They use electroreceptors on their blunt snouts, called ampullae of Lorenzini, to detect and hunt their prey. They can also sense movement from their prey through a sensory organ called a lateral line, which covers the length of their bodies on each side. Tiger Sharks have a reflective layer of tissue behind their retina, increasing their ability to see prey in low light and can turn quickly thanks to the placement of its dorsal fin and high back. Their teeth are serrated, extremely sharp, and are continually replaced by fresh rows of new teeth. Tiger Shark jaws are so powerful they can even break through clams and turtle shells.
Tiger Sharks are the only requiem sharks that have n Viviparous reproductive cycle. The female Sharks are considered sexually mature once they reach a size of 2.5 meters or 8 feet and males are sexually developed once they grow to 2.3 meters or 7.5 feet. The reproduction method is simple. The male holds the female with its teeth to keep her stable and inserts one of its claspers into the female’s cloaca to guide the flow of sperm. Sometimes the female will sustain minor injuries during the act, but the injuries heal quickly.
Reproduction periods are between March and May and the pup birth occurs between April and June, the year after. That means the gestation period can be up to sixteen months and the pups are developed inside the mother’s body during this time. A healthy Tiger Shark pup is about 75 centimeters or 30 inches long when born and they are born in litters ranging anywhere between ten and eighty.
The life span of a Tiger Shark is not well documented, however, it is known that they can live beyond 12 years of age.
Incredible Tiger Shark Facts
Tiger sharks are named for their dark vertical stripes that resemble those of Tigers, although as the sharks age, their stripes fade and sometimes disappear completely. Tiger sharks have other things in common with Tigers as well: They’re fierce predators, respected and feared by people and marine animals alike, and they’re considered sacred in some cultures.
Listed as “near endangered,” Tiger Sharks face decreasing populations largely due to human actions like commercial and sports fishing. These amazing animals aren’t quite as popular as the great white shark, but they’re equally fascinating, as you’re about to find out!
You Can’t Hide From a Tiger Shark!
Although Tiger Sharks have incredible eyesight, they hunt primarily at night. There are a few ways in which Tiger Sharks detect their prey without being detected first.
Tiger Sharks are counter-shaded, which means the tops and bottoms of their bodies are different colors. On top, Tiger Sharks are bluish green to light green, making them difficult to see from above. On bottom, they’re yellowish white to white, making them difficult to see from below.
They also swim fairly slowly, making it hard for prey to sense them nearby. Once a Tiger Shark has its eye on a meal, it moves toward it with a burst of speed and prods it with its snout the way humans prod their food with a fork, getting the lay of the land and preparing to go in for the kill. Tiger Sharks eat their prey whole, unless it’s too big, in which case they tear it into huge, more manageable chunks.
In addition to keen senses of sight and sound, Tiger Sharks have two additional sensory organs that help them find their prey in darkness. Small pits on the shark’s snout contain the ampullae of Lorenzini, a sensory organ that allows sharks to detect electrical impulses that are produced when nearby prey move through the water. The lateral line is another sensory organ that extends down the length of the shark’s sides and allows it to detect tiny vibrations to help it find prey that’s hiding.
Tiger Sharks Are the Trash Cans of the Sea
Hardly a dignified nickname, “trash can of the sea” is nevertheless a fitting moniker for the Tiger Shark, which will eat just about anything. Although they have enormous appetites, these sharks will eat just for fun, even when they’re not hungry. And they don’t discriminate. They eat all manner of sea life, including sea turtles, stingrays, sea snakes, seals, birds, squids, and even land mammals like cows and deer that fall into the water. This is largely thanks to their spectacularly sharp and astonishingly strong teeth, which feature both cutting surfaces and sawing surfaces.
But the real reason they earned this nickname is that they tend to eat a lot of manmade flotsam and jetsam as well. Scientists investigating the stomach contents of Tiger Sharks have found numerous non-food items, including oil cans, burlap sacks, baseballs, pieces of ships and boats, jewelry, clothing, books, license plates, tires, and cow hooves!
Tiger Sharks are More Dangerous to Humans than Great White Sharks
Although Tiger Sharks come in second only to the great white shark in terms of their threat to humans, great white sharks are pretty particular about what they eat, and have a particular disdain for human flesh. Not so, Tiger Sharks! If you are attacked by a Tiger Shark, it may not swim away upon tasting your flesh, as great whites typically do. It’s more likely to finish you off.
Tiger Sharks are very aggressive, and if they feel threatened, they’ll attack. This is the case in many, if not most, cases of Tiger Shark attacks on humans. Still, only three or four Tiger Shark attacks occur each year, mostly in the waters of Hawaii, where these sharks thrive. Between 1959 and 2000, nearly 5000 sharks were killed off the Hawaiian coast in order to set tourists’ minds at ease about swimming in the waters.
Humans Are More Dangerous to Tiger Sharks
Due to the massive commercial trade in everything shark, the Tiger Shark is one of more than 30 shark species in the world that are at risk for extinction.
Tiger Sharks are heavily harvested for their fins, skin, and flesh. Because they have lower levels of mercury in their bodies than other sharks, they’re considered to be ideal for shark steaks and shark fin soup. Additionally, their livers have very high levels of Vitamin A, which is used in a wide variety of supplements and cosmetics.
It’s not clear how many Tiger Sharks are killed every year, but that number is likely very high due to the demand for their meat and the fact that they frequent shallow waters, making them easy for fishermen to spot and kill. However, the number of sharks of all species killed by humans annually exceeds 100 million and may be as high as 273 million.
Females Give Birth to Huge Litters of Shark Pups
Once they reach maturity around 8 years of age, female sharks begin to reproduce. They mate once every three years, resulting in litters that have an average of 40 pups, but which may be as small as 10 or as large as 80 pups.
The gestation period for Tiger Shark pups is between 14 and 16 months. Once the pups are born, they’re immediately independent, swimming off to find food before they become their mother’s first post-pregnancy meal. Newborn Tiger Shark pups are 20 to 30 inches long, and over the next 6 to 8 years, they’ll grow as large as 25 feet long and may weigh more than 2,000 pounds.
Tiger Sharks Are Lone Sharks
While some sharks band together in schools, Tiger Sharks prefer to go solo. The only time they engage in socializing is when they’re looking for a special friend during mating season or happen upon a particularly large kill, which may result in a dinner party of sorts.