Nicknamed the 'Dustbin of the Sea', tiger sharks have a reputation for being ferocious predators and are known for their indiscriminate diet. In fact, these remarkable creatures will eat just about anything.
As requiem sharks - part of the family Carcharhindae - they are built for hunting, from their torpedo-shaped bodies to the size of their fins. However, alongside other requiem sharks (including bull, Galapagos and blacktip reef sharks), they are threatened by habitat loss and overfishing. As apex predators, tiger sharks are vital members of the ecosystem and losing them could have irreversible consequences.
If you'd like to learn more about these misunderstood creatures, keep reading to discover our top ten tiger shark facts:
1. Tiger Sharks Are One of the Largest Species of Shark
Tiger sharks are the fourth largest shark species in the world. On average, they can weigh as much as 1,300 pounds and grow 15 feet long. The largest tiger shark ever recorded was a jaw-dropping 1,780 pounds and 24.6 feet long.
2. Tiger Sharks Are Far From Fussy
One of our favourite tiger shark facts is that they will chow down on just about anything. A full suit of armour, a fur coat, a bag of money… Tiger sharks aren't picky eaters.
Other than rubbish, tiger sharks have one of the most varied diets of all shark species, eating everything from seals, turtles, crabs, dolphins and even other sharks.
Although they're dubbed as 'man-eaters', tiger sharks rarely attack people, with just over 100 unprovoked attacks ever recorded.
3. Like Cats, Tiger Sharks See Well in Dim Light
Just like their namesake, tiger sharks have excellent night vision. They have specially adapted eyes, which feature a layer of tapetum lucidum (reflective tissue) behind their retinas.
Cats have the same reflective tissue, which is why both sharks and cats seem to have glow-in-the-dark eyes! Thanks to a shark's tapetum lucidum, their eyesight in dim light is roughly ten times better than a human's.
4. Tiger Sharks Are Social Creatures
It's a common misconception that tiger sharks are solitary creatures. Research indicates that they do socialise, especially in shallower waters close to the coast. They can also be picky about which sharks they spend time with and have demonstrated group hunting strategies.
5. Tiger Sharks Have Unique Jaws
Tiger shark jaws are a different shape from other sharks. They are almost square, as opposed to the more rounded shape found in other species. They also have different teeth. While other predatory sharks have fewer cutting teeth on their lower jaw, tiger sharks have an almost even number of teeth on their upper and lower jaws.
6. Tiger Sharks Have a Cultural Significance
A tiger shark fact you might not be familiar with is that they have a strong spiritual significance in Hawaiian culture. Native Hawaiians, or Kānaka Maoli, believe in family gods, known as ʻaumakua, who watch over them and give them guidance and protection.
These family gods can come in the form of objects (like rocks and plants) or manifest as animals, including sharks. Native Hawaiian culture also has a revered shark god, Kāmohoaliʻi. Kāmohoaliʻi is considered the guardian of the ocean and has control over the waves and tides. Because of this, sharks, including tiger sharks, are considered sacred in Hawaiian culture.
7. There’s More Than One Type of Tiger Shark
While there's only one species of tiger shark, there is more than one type. Thanks to their migratory habits, there are tiger sharks all over the world. In the past, scientists assumed that different populations were interbreeding, but in 2021, new research revealed that those in the Indo-Pacific and those in the Atlantic are genetically different.
This means that despite being able to travel for long distances, these populations have been cut off from each other for so long that they have become genetically diverse.
8. Tiger Sharks Can Enter a Trance
You may have heard somewhere that if you flip a shark onto its back, it falls asleep. While this sounds like an urban legend, it's surprisingly true. Known as tonic immobility, rotating some sharks onto their backs, or massaging the front of their noses (don't try this at home), causes them to enter a trance-like state for up to 15 minutes.
Both methods are particularly effective on tiger sharks, but less so on great whites. Nose tickling works by stimulating a shark's highly sensitive receptive organs, called the ampullae of Lorenzini, which results in paralysis. Shark tipping (or flipping them upside down) causes a shark's breathing to slow down and their muscles to relax, making them relatively helpless.
9. Tiger Sharks Have Distinctive Markings
As their name suggests, tiger sharks are covered in stripes. They are easy to differentiate from other sharks because of the big vertical stripes that run down their body. Although these markings fade as they mature, they are still visible on adult tiger sharks.
10. Tiger Sharks Can Detect Electric Fields
It's no secret that sharks have evolved to be top predators. This is thanks to a combination of factors, including their ability to detect electric fields. Remember those highly receptive sensory organs we mentioned earlier? The ampullae of Lorenzini? A shark's nose and lower jaws are covered in these open pores which are filled with a conductive jelly.
Electrical currents in the water travel through the jelly, triggering a release of neurotransmitters in a shark's brain, letting them know that something potentially delicious is nearby.