Tiger sharks are well known but poorly understood sharks. Due to their striking appearance and unusual teeth, it is hard to confuse these sharks with any other species. They are the largest of the requiem sharks, which also includes bull and blue sharks, but tiger sharks are the only species in the genus Galeocerdo.
Tiger Shark (Monterey Bay Collection)
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Chondrichthyes
Order - Elasmobranchii
Suborder - Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Genus - Galeocerdo
Species - G. cuvier
Common Names - Tiger Shark, Leopard Shark (more commonly refers to the unrelated and harmless Triakis semifasciata), Maneater Shark, Sea Tiger, Spotted Shark
While they can be found in many different areas of the ocean, tiger sharks prefer warmer waters and are rarely found in the northern or southern extremes. The stripes for which the shark is named are more pronounced in juveniles and tend to break up and fade as the shark ages. Their snout is broad and very blunt, making tigers much easier to identify than other requiem sharks. Their teeth are perfect for this non-specialized feeder and they are as distinctive as their snout. The teeth are robust and finely serrated, but they also have curved cusps and a deep notch on the outer margin. Tigers commonly reach sizes of 10-14 feet, but individuals over 17 feet have been recognized, rivaling the size of the great white shark.
Tiger sharks are solitary by nature but they will congregate for feeding or mating. The mating process for tigers can be somewhat hazardous for the female since the males have a tendency of biting them to keep them still during mating. The distinctive scars are present on most mature females. Like most sharks, but actually unique in their family, tigers are ovoviviparous, meaning they hatch eggs inside and give birth to live young. They have a long gestation period of 14-16 months and they give birth to a large number of young. Litters can range from 10-80 pups, each 2-3 feet long. As with all sharks, the young are immediately able to care for themselves.
Tiger sharks have specialized teeth which are specifically designed to pierce the shells of sea turtles, and other sea creatures with hard shells or dense bones. However, they will eat almost anything. Items found in the stomachs of tiger sharks include horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, other sharks, stingrays, many species of bony fish, sea snakes, marine birds, sea mammals, and even human-made items that the shark cannot digest.
Modern tiger sharks date from the Miocene period (24 million years ago), but their immediate ancestors date from the Eocene period (37-58 million years ago). Sharks have a long fossil history dating from 450 million years ago, predating dinosaurs. Today, there are nearly five hundred recognized species of shark with more still to be discovered.
Tiger sharks are considered to be near threatened and they are protected in some areas but fishing is still common, both sport and commercial. Like all sharks, they are at risk from the practice of 'finning', where the more commercially valuable fins are removed from living sharks and the animal is returned to the water to die a slow and agonizing death. This practice if illegal in many areas and shark fin soup is now being banned as well.
Florida Museum of Natural History International Shark Attack File
Fossil Shark Teeth of the World by Joe Cōcke
Reef Fish Identification (Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas) by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach
Sharks of the World, 2005, Leonard Compagno and Sarah Fowler
The Sharks of North America, 2011, Jose I. Castro