Is There a Difference Between Tiger
Sharks and Sand Tiger Sharks?
Although their names may be similar, tiger and sand
tiger sharks are two distinct species, with differing characteristics
The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvieri) is a member
of the family Carcharhinidae. It gets its
name from the dark stripes on its gray back, which are more
noticeable in juveniles but become pale or disappear entirely
with adulthood. Sharks that belong to this particular family
and live in tropical waters, as does the tiger, are known
as requiem sharks. The tiger sharks shape is
distinctive: it has a wide mouth, broad nose and a barrel
chest. Its teeth are broad and serrated -- when combined
with powerful jaws they are perfect for cutting through
prey such as sea turtles, dolphins and seals.
| As one of
the largest species of sharks, it grows to approximately
18 feet in length. The tiger shark spends most of
its time beyond tropic reefs in water as deep as 500
feet. The tiger is active at night, when it will come
closer to shore and enter reef areas and lagoons to
feed. At certain times of the year, however, the tiger
shark may come inshore during the daytime.
This sand tiger
may appear ferocious because it swims with its mouth
open, but in North Carolina waters, it has a calm
Along with the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias),
tiger sharks have a dangerous reputation. Nonetheless, they
are rarely seen and are not considered to be common. Their
habitat includes tropical waters worldwide.
Depending on where you are, sand tiger sharks may or may
not be thought of as dangerous. The sand tiger (Odontaspis
taurus) belongs to the family Odonaspididae and
it is also called the spotted ragtooth or gray nurse shark.
It can be found in waters as far north as the Gulf of Maine
south to northeast Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico
and from Brazil to Argentina. It is perhaps the most common
shark from Cape Cod to the Chesapeake Bay.
The sand tiger appears fierce because of its three rows
of narrow, curved teeth, which are easily visible since
this shark often swims with its mouth open. Interestingly,
the sand tiger sheds its teeth completely every two weeks
or so. The sand tiger is gray or bronze; young sharks may
have spots on their sides. Its body is stout, with two large,
fleshy dorsal fins. Its nose is short and flat, and almost
The sand tiger is smaller than the tiger shark, with a
maximum length of approximately 11 feet. It is considered
more common than the tiger shark, as well. It can be found
in shallow bays, sandy coastal areas or near rocky reefs
out to depths of 650 feet.
Divers often see these sharks congregating in large numbers
around rocky outcroppings offshore. Here in North Carolina,
one World War II era shipwreck has become known as a hangout
for sand tigers. The tanker Papoose sank in about
130 feet of water southwest of Cape Lookout after an attack
by a German U-boat on March 19, 1942. The large numbers
of sand tigers that routinely swim around the wreck have
made the Papoose one of the countrys most popular
SCUBA diving sites.
In our waters, Odontaspis taurus is generally thought
of as a gentle shark that is not dangerous unless provoked.
Divers who visit the wreck of the Papoose say their
encounters with the sand tigers are awe-inspiring and they
often come away with a greater appreciation of sharks in
general after experiencing their grace first hand.