Top 10 Fun Facts About Tiger Sharks!
Tiger sharks are found all over the world, from as far north as Japan to as far south as New Zealand, in both deep and shallow waters. They are often seen around Hawaii, Australia and the Caribbean Islands. They belong to the largest order of sharks, which also includes bull sharks, blue sharks and hammerhead sharks.
The tiger shark is not to be confused with the sand tiger shark, the cousin of the great white shark, which is smaller, has a more pointed snout and is known for being the only shark to come to the surface to gulp air.
The scientific name of the tiger shark is Galeocerdo cuvier. Galeocerdo comes from the Greek words galeos, for “shark”, and kerdos, for “fox”. (Maybe it should have been called the fox shark, then?)
Living It Large
The tiger shark is one of the largest sharks in the ocean. On average, it can grow 10 to 16 feet (3 to 4.9 meters) long and weigh around 800 to 1500 pounds (363 to 680 kilograms)— about as heavy as a horse. As for the maximum size, there have been reports of tiger sharks growing over 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, but the largest confirmed specimen was 18 feet (5.5 meters) long and over 3000 pounds (1361 kilograms). At birth, tiger sharks are a little over 1 foot (0.3 meters) long.
As in most shark species, female tiger sharks are bigger than males, because they need to be able to carry their young.
So, why are they called tiger sharks? It’s because when a tiger shark is born, it has dark stripes on the upper side of its body. These stripes are especially seen on tiger sharks that are less than 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, and they fade as the shark gets older.
As Stealthy as a Tiger
What else do tiger sharks have in common with tigers? They are excellent hunters. Tiger sharks are top predators, preying on fish (including other sharks), jellyfish, squid, sea turtles, crabs, clams, dolphins, seals, dugongs, sea birds (like albatrosses), crocodiles and sea snakes. They can even go after sick whales.
They find prey using their sharp eyesight and even more keen sense of smell, as well as their “sixth sense”, the ampullae of Lorenzini. These are special pores beneath the skin around the shark’s snout that are filled with a jelly-like substance, which can detect electric fields. All living beings give off an electric field, so by heading in the direction of the field, the shark is sure to find prey.
Once they find something fit for a meal, tiger sharks move very slowly, like tigers silently stalking their prey. This slow movement, together with the camouflage provided by the tiger shark’s skin, which is bluish-green on top and white on the bottom, prevents the shark from being seen until the very last moment, when it makes its move and it is too late for the prey to escape. With one powerful snap, the tiger shark secures its meal and finishes it within minutes.
The Garbage Can of the Sea
Tiger sharks love to eat, and not just eat the animals we mentioned above. Rats, cats, dogs, sheep, goats and even horses have been found in the stomachs of tiger sharks off the coast of Hawaii.
And that’s not all. Other items found inside a tiger shark’s stomach include plastic bottles, beer bottles, old tires, nails, oil cans, baseballs, clothing, license plates and even explosives. No wonder the tiger shark has been nicknamed “the garbage can of the sea”.
What Weird-Looking Teeth You Have!
Sharks are known for having sharp teeth, and the tiger shark is no different. But its teeth aren’t just sharp. The uniquely shaped teeth of a tiger shark are like the sail of a boat or a part of the Sydney Opera House. They are large and notched with saw-like edges. A tiger shark’s teeth are so strong they can cut through the shell of a sea turtle or a clam. And if they break? The tiger shark will simply grow a new one the next day.
Pop Goes the Pups
In its family, the tiger shark is the only species of shark that is ovoviviparous. That’s a combination of oviparous (laying eggs) and viviparous (giving birth to live young). Indeed, female tiger sharks develop eggs inside their bodies, but do not lay them. Instead, the eggs stay inside the female’s body, nourished by the yolk of the egg, hatch there and continue to develop, taking as long as 16 months. When they are fully developed, the live young (called pups) are born. A female tiger shark can have as many as eighty pups in a litter.
Because of the long gestation period and the troublesome mating process, during which the female tiger shark gets badly bitten by the male, tiger sharks have pups only once every three years.
The pups are not given any care after birth and have to find food on their own, often staying together in order to stay safe.
Not Quite at the Top
Because tiger shark pups are abandoned, many of them end up getting preyed on by larger sharks. Even adult tiger sharks, though, are not safe from predation. They can still be eaten by great white sharks — which can grow over 17 feet long — and by killer whales, which hunt in groups called pods.
This, however, does not make the tiger shark any less dangerous. Next to the great white shark, the tiger shark is responsible for the most shark attacks on humans. The great white shark has over 300 recorded unprovoked attacks since the late 1500s and the tiger shark has 111, of which thirty-one were fatal. Also, three to four tiger shark attacks are said to occur in Hawaii each year.
Why does the tiger shark attack humans? Well, aside from its curiosity, it has that almost insatiable and indiscriminating appetite. This makes the tiger shark even more dangerous than the great white shark. The great white shark usually takes a bite and then leaves, allowing the victim to swim away to safety, so that less than one fourth of its attacks are fatal. The tiger shark usually takes a bite and then another, which results in more than one third of its attacks being fatal.
Hunted but Surviving
Because of its tendency to attack humans, some tiger sharks are hunted as part of shark control programs. They are also widely hunted for sport as well as for their fins, skin and liver, which is a rich source of Vitamin A. They are also accidentally caught by fishing boats catching tuna, swordfish and squid.
In spite of these threats, though, the tiger shark continues to thrive because of its large, global population and high reproductive rates. Currently, it is classified only as a Near Threatened species, which means it is not considered Endangered.
Eye of the Tiger
Some people may consider the tiger shark a menace or a trophy, but some native Hawaiians considered it a sacred spirit or the spirit of one of their ancestors, reincarnations of family members who passed away a long time ago. They especially believed that the eyes of a tiger shark had magical powers and that by eating the eyeball of a tiger shark, one could see better, even see the future. According to legend, the mother of the great King Kamehameha asked for tiger shark eyeballs during her pregnancy in hopes that the son she was carrying would become a great leader.
The YouTube video below contains a playlist of videos to have a look at, the list of videos featured is underneath.
- Tiger Sharks of Tiger Beach by Becky Kagan Schott – Some really clear footage of this incredible animal.
- Tiger Shark Eats Video Camera… While it’s running by StuartCoveDiveBahama – Very early on in the footage, when the shark bumps into the video, you can see really clearly the pores on its snout that are the openings to the ampullae of Lorenzini.
- Jonathan Bird’s Blue World: Tiger Sharks by BlueWorldTV – Jonathan firstly meets lots of Lemon sharks while trying to film a Tiger shark.
- Dugongs vs. Tiger Sharks by National Geographic – The slow and gentle dugong has developed an interesting survival strategy to stay away from tiger sharks.