Tiger sharks are known as the wastebaskets of the ocean, with a diet that consists of almost anything that they can swallow. Everything from sea turtle shells to car tyres have been found inside their stomachs, leading to this nickname. While they are the second species of shark that is most likely to attack a human, they are also prone to swimming away after one bite, and the bite rate is actually far lower than you might think. Only a handful of tiger shark attacks occur every year, and this is minuscule compared to the number of tourists that visit beaches. Lovers of tropical weather, they are commonly found relatively close to the shore in the southern hemisphere.
Short on time? Jump to our bite-sized tiger shark facts!
They are the fourth largest sharks in the ocean, averaging sizes of 10-13ft, with larger members of the species reaching 16ft. Females are considerably larger than males and tend to weigh more as a result. The average weight of the tiger shark is approximately 580kg. They have impressive teeth that appear to crowd the mouth, and are identical on both the top and bottoms rows. The edges are heavily serrated so that they can slice through bone and tough materials such as sea turtle shells.
The jaw of the tiger shark is square in shape, which is very different to the vast majority of other sharks. Its cartilage also meets at a near right angle in the middle of the snout, giving the shark its classic facial features, which is a wedge shaped head. They have a superior sense of smell, but also vision – which is enhanced in low light conditions.
Their skin ranges in terms of colour, with a light blue or grey on top and white or a slightly yellowish colour to the underbelly. This colouration is known as countershading, as no matter where prey looks (up or down) the shark is camouflaged by the sun or the sea. Their spots and stripes are most visible when they are young, fading as they get older but rarely vanishing completely.
On their snouts are small pits that contain electroreceptors. These allow them to detect electronic fields, such as those that are produced by potential prey. The lateral line that goes along their flanks and sides also allows them to detect vibrations in the water, leading them to potential prey and allowing them to hunt efficiently in the dark.
The long fins of the tiger shark allow them to glide through the water effortlessly, and the long upper tail is able to give the shark a quick burst of additional speed. The high back and dorsal fin are there to act as a pivot, allowing it to spin quickly and without warning. It should be noted that the dorsal fins typically sit close to the tail.
Tiger sharks are a species that we still know relatively little about, especially compared to other species of shark. It is known that they are predominately nocturnal in terms of hunting and they tend to travel alone. Their behaviour does not tend to change in any of the regions where they are recorded to reside.
During the day they often retreat to the lower depths of the water, rising and becoming most active at dusk and the night time hours. Juveniles tend to be more active during the day as opposed to night, and they do not often hesitate to appear directly under the surface of the water.
They are considered an apex predator, sitting at the top of the food chain, as they have no natural predators. However, it has been noted that on infrequent occasion, killer whales have been seen to hunt and kill tiger sharks.
A previously noted, tiger sharks are known for having the most varied diet in the shark world. There is little to nothing that they will not at least attempt to eat. Their main prey consists of a variety of fish, sea birds, snakes, seals, sea turtles, and other marine animals such as dolphins. They have even been known to eat other sharks, including others of their own kind.
Aside from this, they also eat a lot of rubbish, including car number plates and other pieces of human debris. Due to this, many considered them to be of low intelligence, bit it is actually the opposite. The tiger shark lives off a wide range of foods, instead of having a specific prey. This means that if one food source is restricted, they can move to another. From an evolutionary viewpoint, it’s highly intelligent.
Habitat & Distribution
Generally, tiger sharks prefer tropical and subtropical waters in which to reside. They are nomadic by nature, venturing from place to place without really stopping for prolonged periods of time, and they are generally found close to the coast. They prefer the deep waters that line the reefs, but will move to shallower locations to hunt prey.
As a result, they can sometimes be found in river mouths and even in harbours, hunting prey or sometimes lingering. They much prefer murky water to clear, and are often found near island groups. They are particularly common in places such as Hawaii. During the colder winter months, these sharks will stick close to the equator.
Reproduction & Offspring
Once they reach sexual maturity, females will mate once every three years, with a tiger shark pregnancy lasting between 15 and 16 months. Each litter has an average of 41 pups, with an approximate birth length of 75cm. In the northern hemisphere, mating season usually occurs between March and May, and November and December for the south.
The mating procedure is often uncomfortable for the female, with the males prone to using their teeth to keep them in place. The tiger shark is the only species within its family where the eggs will hatch inside the mother. The young are then born live when they are fully developed.
It is not entirely clear how long tiger sharks live due to the mystery that still surrounds them as a species. However, it is known that they do at least reach a minimum of 12 years old. Currently, they are seen as having low reproduction rates, especially compared to the rates at which they are being killed.
It is deeply unfortunate that tiger sharks have found themselves classed as near threatened on the conservation status chart. They are popular victims of finning and fishing, with their fins being used in soups and medicines. While the fin lacks nutrition, their livers are high in vitamin A, and so used to create oils.
Their skin is also popular for its unique appearance, but they are also common prey for big game hunters and fisherman. Many tiger shark populations have, and will continue to, decline due to these practices.
They are also commonly hunted through fear as a result of exaggerated attack numbers. These have proven harmful to shark populations in the past, and continue to do so even today. It is, unfortunately, only a matter of time before they find themselves in more danger.
Bite-sized Tiger Shark Facts
- Tiger Sharks are known as ‘The Wastebaskets of the sea’ as they are known to eat anything such as floating garbage (including licence plates!).
- Along with the great white and bull shark, they are one of the 3 species that are mostly responsible for attacks on humans.
Because of their extremely broad diet, they are more likely to continue attacking humans after the initial strike, unlike the great white which is a much more fussy eater.
- They are the fourth largest species of shark.
- As tiger sharks mature, their stripes become less prominent, almost disappearing completely.
- They can grow up to 14ft and weigh up to 1,400lbs.
- Tiger sharks tend to me more active at dusk or night.
- They are found almost worldwide in tropical and warm coastal regions.
- Their Jaws are capable of cracking the shells of sea turtles and clams.
Tiger Shark Fact-File
|Scientific Name||Galeocerdo Cuvier|
|Size||3.25 – 4.25m (10ft8in – 13ft11in)|
|Weight||385 – 635kg (849 - 1,400lbs)|
|Top Speed||32km/h (19.9mph)|
|Lifespan||Up to 50 years (In Wild)|
|Conservation Status||Near Threatened|