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The tiger shark is bluish gray to black above and light gray to white below. The dark vertical stripes along the sides that give this shark its common name are much more prominent in juveniles than adults.
The body shape is distinctive, with a broad head and upper body, becoming increasingly slender towards the tail. The jaws are large and house a set of sizeable teeth with curved cusps and finely serrated edges. The dorsal lobe of the caudal (tail) fin is longer than the ventral lobe.
Tiger sharks range from 9 to 16 feet in length and weigh 845-1,900 pounds, with males being larger than females.
Distribution and Habitat
Tiger sharks are found in tropical and subtropical seas around the world, primarily from 45° N to 32° S. They are most common in shallow coastline habitats at depths of 8 to 475 feet, but have been reported several miles out from shore and as deep as 1,150 feet, as well as in river estuaries and harbors.
Tiger sharks will feed on virtually anything they can get in their mouth, including other sharks. They prefer live prey, but will take carrion if hungry. Although they have been known to attack humans, fatal attacks are rare.
The tiger shark's coloration allows it to "sneak up" on prey before striking. If the prey flees, the shark will usually back off rather than chase, but it is capable of short bursts of speed once prey is within range.
Very little is known about the courting habits of tiger sharks, except that both sexes have multiple mates.
In the northern hemisphere, females delay fertilization until March or May in order to give birth between May and June of the following year. In the southern hemisphere, females delay mating until November or January in order to give birth between February and March of the following year. Tiger sharks are one of the few species that are ovoviviparous (meaning that the eggs are fertilized and incubated internally).
Up to 80 pups are born aftera n incubation period of 13-16 months. Female tiger sharks typically give birth in a nursery, which provides protection during birth and to the young directly after birth. Tiger sharks are born independent, and mothers do not help their pups to find food, shelter or to survive. Males play no role in the lives of their offspring. Pups, however, are born with traits that help them survive without parents, including camouflage patterning, teeth to help capture prey, and speed to avoid predators. They reach maturity at 6-8 years, with males being sexually mature earlier than females.
Tiger sharks can live up to 27 years in the wild. Captive tiger sharks tend to have a far shorter lifespan, often "preferring" to starve to death rather than eat food that is already dead.
Tiger sharks are generally solitary, but will feed communally on large carcasses. In the latter case, larger sharks tend to feed first, while smaller sharks circle and await their turns.
Nomadic, a tiger shark will commonly travel up to 50 miles a day, stopping only to feed.
Most movement and feeding takes place at night.
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This page was last updated on June 23, 2017.