Tiger sharks are a large species of predatory shark native to subtropical and tropical coastlines worldwide. They are a large species, and exceptional individuals can reach 18 ft. long, and possibly longer! This shark’s name comes from the dark, stripe-like pattern on its skin, which resembles a tiger’s stripes. However, the stripes do fade as they grow older. Read on to learn about the tiger shark.
Description of the Tiger Shark
These large predators are generally between 10 and 13 ft. long, though larger animals are not uncommon. Most individuals also weigh between 800 lbs. and 1,400 lbs. or more.
Reports of sharks anywhere from 16 ft. to 18 ft. are common, and one specimen reportedly exceeded 24 ft. long, but no one was able to verify this report. While they do have stripes, they are subtler than those of a tiger, and look more like sunlight filtering through the water.
Interesting Facts About the Tiger Shark
These apex predators are incredibly impressive to behold. Such an imposing animal is obviously widely respected, and also widely feared. Learn more about these sharks, and grow to respect more than fear them, below.
- Large Ladies – Tiger sharks display sexual dimorphism, which means you can usually tell the difference between males and females by their appearance. Female tiger sharks are generally longer and heavier than males. Larger females are capable of carrying and producing more offspring.
- Sir Munch a’ Lot – Tiger sharks can be lovingly called the garbage disposals of the sea, because they very commonly eat garbage. Actually, they eat just about anything they come across. Scientists have found a wide variety of inedible objects in the stomachs of these sharks. Some objects found include tires, license plates, and basketballs. Sadly, human garbage is sometimes the cause of death in this species.
- Conveyor Belt – Of course, chowing down on license plates will definitely knock out a few teeth. Luckily for tiger sharks, they have an endless production of sharp teeth. When a tooth falls out, another simply rotates up to take its place. This tooth regeneration also occurs in great whites and many other shark species.
- Slice and Dice – Those teeth also regenerate quickly to replace the ones lost in feeding on regular prey too. Tiger sharks have heavily serrated teeth, much like steak knives, to help rip through tough food items. They can easily bite through thick flesh, bone, and even sea turtle shells, like loggerheads.
Habitat of the Tiger Shark
These sharks prefer warm, coastal waters, and avoid temperate and arctic regions. They usually live in deep waters off the edges of coral reefs, and is also known to roam in shallow waters. They spend the day in deeper waters, and move closer to the coast to hunt at night. As with most shark species, they are oceanic, and require saltwater to live.
Distribution of the Tiger Shark
You can generally find tiger sharks close to the coast in any subtropical or tropical ocean. They range from Japan to New Zealand in the western Pacific Ocean, and from the southwestern United States to South America in the eastern Pacific Ocean. From the western Pacific, their range spreads to the coasts of India and eastern Africa. In the Atlantic Ocean, tiger sharks reside off the coast of northwest Africa, and from the eastern United States to South America.
Diet of the Tiger Shark
Tiger sharks are far from picky eaters. If they can bite something, they will bite it and attempt to eat it. While they are young, they feed primarily on fish and squid. However, once they reach about seven feet long, they become much more formidable predators.
Adults of this species will eat fish, sea birds, bottlenose dolphins and other dolphin species, sea lions, dugongs, sea snakes, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, other sharks, stingrays, and even injured whales.
Tiger Shark and Human Interaction
Based on the previous section, it is unsurprising that humans are quite afraid of tiger sharks. This is for good reason. Because they are such large sharks, bites from tiger sharks can be fatal. They also frequent reefs and coastal waters, putting them in contact with humans more frequently than some other species. Despite this, bites are actually relatively infrequent, and there are usually only a handful of bites per year.
Sadly for the sharks, this fear does not help their conservation efforts. Humans commonly hunt and kill these sharks for their liver (oil), fins (shark fin soup), and meat. Fishing has severely impacted a number of populations.
Some areas even cull the sharks in large numbers to “protect” tourists, despite the fact that scientists have deemed this as ineffective at reducing interaction with humans. Because of these factors, the IUCN Red List labels these sharks as Near Threatened.
Humans have not domesticated tiger sharks in any way.
Does the Tiger Shark Make a Good Pet
No. Just, no.
On a serious note, tiger sharks do not make good pets. They are much too large to easily house in an aquarium, and can potentially injure or harm humans.
Tiger Shark Care
Researchers know very little about what goes into caring for tiger sharks. Humans do not keep them in aquariums very often, and when they do, it is not for long periods of time. Just like great white sharks, researchers only keep young individuals in aquariums, and this is usually only for short periods. Those animals kept while they are young can be incredibly useful for understanding the behavior and biology of these creatures without harming them.
Behavior of the Tiger Shark
This species of shark is primarily solitary, and hunts at night, making it nocturnal. They range into shallower waters at night to feed, and move back to deep waters during the day. While they are usually solitary, when feeding on carcasses they can congregate in large groups. When not hunting, they are relatively slow swimmers.
Reproduction of the Tiger Shark
Like many other species, tiger sharks reach sexual maturity once they reach a specific size, rather than age. Females begin to reproduce at around 8 ft. long or more, and males at around 7.5 ft. long. They have a very slow reproductive rate, and females only breed once every 3 years.
After the sharks mate, the female incubates the eggs inside of her body. They hatch while still inside, and she gives “live” birth – this makes them ovoviviparous. The gestation period is 16 months, and females can give birth to anywhere from 10 to 80 babies, called “pups”!
Beliefs, Superstitions, and Phobias About the Tiger Shark
The native people of Hawaii consider tiger sharks as sacred beings. In some tales, these sharks have special powers of sight, and can “see” things others cannot. They consider the sharks as na ‘aumakua, or “ancestor spirits.”