Tiger Sharks: Types, Diet, Location, and Temperament

When you think of ferocious and dangerous sharks that pose a threat to swimmers and surfers, you probably think of the great white. But the tiger shark can be just as problematic and while shark attacks are quite low, these ferocious little beasts are responsible for a large percentage of them.

In fact, some of the most famous shark attacks have involved tiger sharks, including the attack that took the arm of a young Bethany Hamilton, as depicted in the book and subsequent film, Soul Surfer.

About Tiger Sharks

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is so named because of the stripes and spots that appear across its body, although these marks are more prevalent in young tiger sharks and fade with age.

The name “Galeocerdo” also draws parallels between other animals, although in this case, the name comes from the Greek words for “Shark” and what seems to be the Latin word for “Pig”, so it’s both a tiger shark and a pig shark.

We’ve seen a lot of claims stating that the word is an amalgamation of the Greek words for “Shark” and “Fox”. The former is true (although technically, it was a word used to describe a type of fish that became associated with all types of sharks), but the latter is not. The modern Greek word for fox is “αλεπού” and the ancient Greek word is “αλώνηξ”, with the anglicized versions looking something like “alepou” and “alonix”.

As any animal lover will tell you, the Latin for fox is “vulpes”, which is where we get the word “vulpine” from.

There’s nothing “cerdo” about any of those words. However, there are some swine connections, and it seems to be a reference to hog hairs in particular.

Tiger sharks are a type of requiem shark, a shark species that also includes the spinner shark, blacktip reef shark, and lemon shark.

They are often blue to green in color and have a light-colored underbelly, helping to camouflage them when viewed from above and below.

They also have something known as a lateral line, a system of sensory organs that extends down the shark’s flanks and allows them to detect even the smallest of vibrations in the water. As a result, they are able to hunt small prey in very murky waters, should the need arise.

What Do Tiger Sharks Eat?

Tiger sharks are apex predators, which means they sit at the very top of the food chain. They spend most of the day swimming close to shore and venture out into deeper waters at night.

Young tiger sharks primarily feed on small prey, including mollusks, fish, and octopuses. As they grow, their feeding habits change and they begin hunting more substantial prey, including sea birds and sea snakes.

Adult tiger sharks enjoy an incredibly varied diet consisting of everything from sea turtles and smaller sharks to dolphins and sea lions. They will even attack old and sick whales and will also scavenge food from dead whales and dead sharks.

Tiger sharks are aided by strong and sharp teeth, an excellent sense of smell, and brilliant eyesight. They can track even the faintest whiff of blood and will often eat their prey whole.

These vicious hunters don’t have it all their own way, though. They are also hunted by killer whales, a species of dolphin that exists in all of the world’s oceans and has very little to fear.

Where Do You Find Tiger Sharks?

You can often find tiger sharks close to the coast, which is why sightings are so common. They can be found all over the world and exist primarily in tropical and subtropical waters.

You will find tiger sharks everywhere from the waters of Mexico, the USA, Japan, and New Zealand to the coasts of Greece and Spain, although sightings in the latter are fairly rare.

Are Tiger Sharks Dangerous?

Are tiger sharks responsible for a high percentage of the recorded attacks on humans? Yes. Can they attack you without provocation? Yes. Are they dangerous? It depends.

Generally speaking, shark attacks are rare and shark fatalities are even rarer. There are just 80 or so reported attacks every year and around 10 to 15 of these are fatal.

To put that into perspective, over a dozen people die from vending machines every year and about 10 die from trying to put on their socks. Even if you are a swimmer or surfer who spends a lot of time in the water, the risk of being attacked by a tiger shark is still very low.

Sea turtles, sea lions, and dolphins definitely have something to worry about, humans do not.

How Big Is A Tiger Shark?

Adult tiger sharks can reach lengths of around 13 foot 11, or 4.25 meters. They can weigh as much as 1,400 lbs. and females are usually larger than males.

That’s just the average, though, and they can grow much bigger.

There are multiple reports of female tiger sharks growing to a massive 16.5 ft and weighing up to 2,000 lb., and the largest tiger shark on record was over 18 feet and 3,300 pounds.

It’s one of the largest sharks in the ocean, although there are a few shark species that are considerably larger, including the shale shark and basking shark.

Tiger Shark Conservation

Although tiger sharks are not endangered, they are classified as “Near Threatened”, and their numbers are dwindling.

These ferocious beasts are often hunted for their fins and livers, as well as their flesh. They are part of the barbaric practice of shark finning, whereby their fins are removed and they are tossed back into the sea.

Those fins are then used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in some parts of the world and an illegal dish in others. The fin provides no flavor or sustenance, but is instead prized for its rarity, turning it into a status symbol of sorts.

Shark fins don’t grow back and even if they did, sharks can’t survive very long without them. When they are tossed back into the ocean, they will sink and slowly suffocate. If they are lucky, the open wounds will attract predators and their death will be quick. For many, however, it’s slow and painful.

FAQs About Tiger Sharks

If you still have a few questions about tiger sharks, the following FAQs will point you in the right direction.

Are Tiger Sharks Aggressive?

Although tiger shark attacks are rare, they are one of the species most likely to attack even if they are not provoked. They are curious and can be very aggressive, and their sheer size and weight means they’re also pretty fearless.

It’s true that we’re more of a threat to tiger sharks than they are to us, but this is not one of those occasions when the animal is more scared of you than you are of it.

What Does A Tiger Shark Look Like?

Tiger sharks have tiger-like stripes and spots on their flanks. It’s a distinctive color pattern that makes them easy to distinguish from other shark species, although these colors are most prominent in juvenile tiger sharks.

Do Tiger Sharks Attack Humans?

Tiger sharks can attack humans and there are many recorded instances of them doing so. As noted several times above, the number of shark attacks is still very low when viewed as a whole, but they can be vicious and deadly when they do occur.

How Fast Can A Tiger Shark Swim?

A tiger shark can reach speeds of up to 20 mph. So, if you thought you could just out-swim these guys as soon as they come into view, think again! That’s a good four times faster than the fastest human swimmers.

Summary: Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are massive, ferocious, angry, and curious creatures. They are also hunting machines and are built for speed and power, giving them dominion over the oceans.

They are beautiful creatures that are being mercilessly hunted for their fins, only for the actual sharks to be discarded. But at the same time, they are dangerous and potentially deadly creatures that you won’t want to meet when you’re alone at sea with nothing but a shortboard and a wetsuit for company.