One of the largest and most feared predators in the ocean, the Tiger Shark is among the most iconic animals in the sea.

What is the Tiger Shark?

The tiger shark is the fourth largest shark species in our oceans, after the whale shark, basking shark and the great white shark. They are the second largest of the true predatory shark species.

They are aggresive predators, known for eating almost anything. They are often referred to as the dumpsters of the sea.

Appearance

What do tiger sharks look like?

The tiger shark is a large, heavy-bodies animal with a sleek but intimidating appearance.

It has a wedge shaped head and blunt nose, which allows them to turn quickly from side to side. A must when hunting speedy rays.

They have two long pectoral fins, a large caudal (tail) fin and a sizeable dorsal fin. On their underside they also have a pair of pelvic fins and a single anal fin.

Tiger shark swimming along the sea floor
Tiger shark swimming along the sea floor | (jakewiltonphoto)

How big are tiger sharks?

The typical adult ranges between 10 and 15ft. (3.2-4.5 metres).

They are a dimorphic species which means there is no physical differences between males and females. The primary difference is size with females being the larger of the two sexes.

Mature females regularly grow over 12ft. (3.7m). Males almost never get that big.

Divers feeding huge tiger shark | (@I.a._redeveloper_guy)

The weight of an adult will vary according to its overall length and girth, but usually ranges between 800 and 1500lbs (350-700 kilograms).

Exceptionally large specimens do occur, and individuals have been recorded at more than 18ft. (5m) long and over 1 tonne in weight.

Stripes

The tiger shark is characterised by vertical markings down either side of its body. These mimic the stripes of the iconic big cat and is what inspired the tiger shark’s name. These dark bands fade as the animal grows.

Their skin is a bluish-grey on the upper half, while their underside is a varied white/cream colour.

As with all shark species, this colour adaptation helps with hunting as they are they are camouflaged from both above and below.

Tiger shark with pilot fish | (@denistemae)

How many teeth do tiger sharks have?

Tiger sharks have a large mouth, filled with 48 razor sharp teeth.

These large teeth are broad and serrated, slanting backwards to allow for better grip when biting into the flesh of a prey item.

Tiger shark showing off its teeth in The Bahamas | (@szjanko)

Most sharks have an upper jaw designed for cutting flesh and a lower jaw designed for grip. However with tiger sharks, there is no difference between the upper and lower jaws, which is what makes them even better equipped for hunting.

Unlike mammalian predators – including humans – who have different shaped teeth for different purposes, all of the tiger shark’s teeth are identical. All of which have a flattened rear half, designed for sawing through hard substances like a turtle’s shell.

Tiger shark swimming through the deep | (@mer.michaela)

Gills

Like all sharks, the tiger shark has five distinctive gills on either side of it’s head. These allow the filtration of water and extraction of oxygen into the shark’s bloodstream.

Behaviour

What do tiger sharks eat?

Tiger sharks are carnivorous in nature, and are notorious for consuming anything they can get their mouths around. Common prey items include; fish, birds, sea turtles, seals, squid and even other sharks.

They are often referred to as the ‘garbage bin of the seas’ and individuals, ironically, have even been found with metal objects and garbage in their gut. These have even included car license plates, and parts of tyres.

Tiger shark snout
Tiger shark snout | (@johngarzaphoto)

Their diet varies with geographic location, and they’re even known to be more likely to attack humans in certain areas. Although it has never been proven that they actively seek out humans as a source of food.

They will also scavenge off floating whale carcasses, and despite being a veracious predator, they’re able to go several weeks without food.

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