Tiger sharks are large predatory fish found in tropical waters around the globe, and they have a reputation for being extremely territorial and aggressive towards other species.
They are also known to be very dangerous when provoked or cornered.
There is, however, some debate about whether this reputation is justified – do tiger sharks really deserve their reputation for aggression? We took a closer look.
What Is A Tiger Shark?
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a member of the family Cetacean order, which includes whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sea cows.
It’s one of two species of tiger sharks that exist today, along with the smaller smooth-hound shark (Heterodontus greeleyi).
The name “tiger” comes from its stripes, which, as the name suggests, resemble that of a tiger.
The tiger shark has been classified as an apex predator since the 1970s, meaning it plays a central role in ecosystems.
Like all sharks, tiger sharks feed primarily on invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, echinoderms, and small vertebrates.
However, they can consume larger prey items if necessary. In fact, tiger sharks are considered opportunistic predators because they will eat almost anything that moves.
The tiger shark is a medium-sized fish that typically grows up to 5 meters long and weighs between 200 and 700 kilograms. Females tend to grow slightly bigger than males.
What Do Tiger Sharks Eat?
Tiger sharks have a varied diet, and some of the main elements of this include:
Crustaceans are a major element of a tiger shark’s diet, especially crabs and lobsters.
Crabs have tough shells that make them difficult for most animals to swallow whole, so tiger sharks often tear off pieces of crab meat before swallowing.
Tiger sharks also eat mollusks, including clams, mussels, octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and snails.
Mollusks are easier to swallow than crustaceans, but they don’t provide much nutrition.
Tiger sharks also eat fish, although not as frequently as they eat crustaceans. Fish are a good source of protein, but they’re low in fat.
Echinoderms are another common component of a tiger shark’s diet.
Echinoderms are marine invertebrates that have hard outer skeletons or plates.
They include starfish, sea urchins, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, sea lilies, and sea biscuits.
Invertebrate animals are animals without backbones, including insects, spiders, scorpions, jellyfish, and other arthropods.
Some invertebrates are eaten by sharks, but others are too large to be swallowed.
Other Prey Items
Tiger sharks occasionally eat birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other sharks.
For example, tiger sharks sometimes attack manatees and dugongs.
How Can You Identify A Tiger Shark?
The easiest way to identify a tiger shark is by looking at its dorsal fin; this fin looks like an upside-down V shape with two pointed ends, and is located on the back of the shark’s body near the tail; tiger sharks have two of these, along with five pectoral fins.
A tiger shark has three dark stripes running along its sides.
One stripe runs from the head to the tip of the tail, another runs from the nose to the base of the tail, and the third runs from the base of the tail to the tip of the fins.
Fully grown tiger sharks can grow to about 10 feet long (3 meters) and weigh between 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and 1,200 pounds (550 kilograms).
The largest known tiger shark was found in the Gulf of Mexico and weighed more than 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms).
Why Are Tiger Sharks Shaped The Way They Are?
Tigers sharks have evolved over time to become more streamlined and efficient at swimming.
Their bodies are covered in smooth, sleek scales called dermal denticles, which helps them move through the water quickly and silently – a huge advantage to this fearsome predator.
The fins of tiger sharks, as with other sharks, are designed to make the fish as fast and possible, reducing water resistance and vibrations that could interrupt a sneak-attack, and eyes placed on the side of the head offer great peripheral vision.
Essentially, every element of a tiger shark is build for sleek speed and efficiency, allowing them to sneak up on prey and take it by surprise.
Where Are Tiger Sharks Found?
Tigers sharks are a common species, found worldwide throughout tropical and subtropical waters, and these include:
In the Atlantic Ocean, tiger sharks are found around Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, Georgia, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Residents of the Pacific Ocean tend to inhabit Australia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Hawaii, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the United States.
In the Indian Ocean, tiger sharks live around India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Oman, Yemen, Somalia, South Africa, and the Maldives.
The Caribbean Sea sees tiger sharks present in Barbados, Colombia, Curaçao, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, and Venezuela.
Are Tiger Sharks Dangerous?
Tiger sharks have a reputation for being one of the most dangerous sharks in the waters, due to their size and aggressive nature.
However, this reputation is not entirely accurate. In fact, there are very few documented incidents where humans have been attacked by tiger sharks.
Tiger sharks do tend to be curious, and this means that swimmers can attract their attention, and they may approach closer than expected; they can also be aggressive when approached, and this can increase the risk of an attack.
If you encounter a tiger shark when swimming in the ocean, it’s best to stay calm and avoid too much movement to attract attention.
Make every effort to remove yourself from the water where possible, and alert the coastguard.
Although tiger sharks are often considered dangerous, they are rarely responsible for any fatalities, provided that you remember to stay calm, keep your distance, and follow the rules and guidelines designed to prevent shark attacks.