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Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

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Tiger Shark / Stephen Frink, Getty Images

An inquisitive tiger shark investigates a diver in the Bahamas.

Stephen Frink / Getty Images
Tiger sharks get their name from the stripes and spots along their side. These markings are obvious in young sharks but fade as the shark ages. Other names for the tiger shark include leopard shark, maneater shark, and spotted shark.

Description:

Tiger sharks have a blunt snout, large eyes, a bluish-green, gray or black back and a light underside. Around their mouth, they have long labial furrows. Tiger sharks are described in many field guides as "huge" - they grow to 10-14 feet long on average, but may grow to over 18 feet and 2,000 pounds.

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Superclass: Gnathostomata
  • Class: Elasmobranchii
  • Order: Carcharhiniformes
  • Family: Carcharhinidae
  • Genus: Galeocerdo
  • Species: cuvier

Habitat and Distribution:

Tiger sharks have a wide distribution throughout temperate and tropical oceans around the world. In the U.S., they may be found in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to the Caribbean and in the Pacific, off southern California to South America.

Tiger sharks are found from shallow waters to areas over 400 feet deep. They may also frequent estuaries, harbors, lagoons, in coral atolls and off oceanic islands. They are the species most often identified in shark attacks off Hawaii.

Feeding:

Tiger sharks eat fish (bony fish, sharks and rays), sea turtles, marine mammals, squid, crustaceans, carrion, and even garbage.

Reproduction:

Tiger sharks are ovoviviparous. Tiger sharks mate in March-June in the Northern Hemisphere (they are believed to mate in November-January in the Southern Hemisphere). The gestation period is 14-16 months. There may be up to 80 pups, and some scientists believe that they are nourished by uterine milk from the uterus. The high number of pups may make the tiger shark more resistant to exploitation than some other shark species.

The tiger shark's maximum reported age (according to FishBase.org) is 50 years.

Shark Attacks:

Since they are often close to shore, tiger sharks are often implicated in shark attacks. In fact, they are the shark species with the second-highest reported numbers of shark attacks, according to the International Shark Attack File. From 1580-2010, there were 63 tiger shark attacks, although about one-third (27) were fatal.

Despite this, scuba diving with tiger sharks is popular in some areas, such as the Bahamas, and this species is sometimes curious around divers, as shown in the image here.

Conservation:

The tiger shark is listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List. These sharks may be caught as a game fish, for their meat, fins, or their skin, which is made into leather.

References and Further Information:

  • Carpenter, K. 2010. Galeocerdo cuvier (Péron & Lesueur, 1822). In: Nicolas Bailly (2011). FishBase. Accessed January 30, 2012.
  • Compagno, L., Dando, M. and S. Fowler. 2005. Sharks of the World. Princeton University Press.
  • Florida Museum of Natural History. 2011. International Shark Attack File. Accessed January 30, 2012.
  • Knickle, C. Tiger Shark. Icthyology at Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed January 30, 2012.
  • NOAA Fisheries. Tiger Shark Fact Sheet. Accessed January 30, 2012.
  • Martins, C. and C. Knickle. White Shark (Online). Florida Museum of Natural History Icthyology Department. Accessed September 6, 2009.
  • Simpfendorfer, C. 2009. Galeocerdo cuvier. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. , Accessed January 30, 2012.
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