Worldwide in tropical to temperate latitudes
Predominately coastal but use open ocean to travel between islands
Near Threatened With Extinction
Order Carcharhiniformes (ground sharks), Family Carcharhinidae (requiem sharks)
The tiger shark gets its name from the characteristic vertical bars that cover the sides of its body. Though these bars fade slightly as individuals reach adulthood, they are very noticeable in juveniles and at least party visible throughout the lifetime. Reaching lengths of at least 18 feet (5.5 m) and 2000 pounds (nearly a metric tonne), the tiger shark is the fourth largest shark and second largest predatory shark, behind only the great white.
Tiger sharks are aggressive predators, famous for eating just about anything they find or are able to capture. They have been known to eat many different fishes and invertebrates, seabirds, sea turtles, some marine mammals, stingrays and other rays, smaller sharks, sea snakes, and scavenged dead animals, among other things. Several tiger sharks have been known to eat garbage, including metal, plastic, wood, fishing gear, and other trash. Though they are generalist predators, in some areas, tiger sharks likely specialize on certain highly available prey. For example, in Hawaii, tiger sharks are known to regularly attack and eat green turtles and hawaiian monk seals near the nesting beaches for those two species. Scientists often observe individuals with missing flippers that have been bitten off by a Tiger. At other island groups, tiger sharks are known to congregate near seabird rookeries during the times when young birds are learning to fly (and often end up on the sea surface). Finally, tiger sharks have been known to bite people, and their rather large size leads to occasional fatalities, particularly in areas where large numbers of people use the ocean, recreationally.
Tiger sharks mate via internal fertilization and give live birth to as many as 80 or more small young. Though they give live birth, tiger sharks do not connect to their young through a placenta, like in most mammals. Instead, embryos develop inside individual eggs until they hatch. Only then does the mother give birth to live juveniles. After they are born, young tiger sharks are already natural predators, and they eat coastal fishes and invertebrates. Adult tiger sharks have no natural predators, though juveniles may be eaten by other sharks, including adult tiger sharks. For this and other reasons, juveniles and adults live in slightly different habitats. Adults prefer the open coast and high-energy coral reefs, while juveniles are typically found in estuaries and protected bays. This division of habitat use may offer some protection to the juveniles from cannibalistic adults.
Though the tiger shark is thought to be a predominately coastal species, its geographic distribution includes all tropical and temperate waters around the world, so some individuals must migrate between island groups. Experts consider tiger sharks to be ‘near threatened’ with extinction, noting the reduction in their numbers from targeted and accidental catch in fisheries. Their reputation as a species that bites people (though very rarely) makes them a target of population control efforts in some places, a practice that is not supported by scientists anywhere that it occurs.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.