The (Not So) Terrifying Tiger Shark

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A fearsome reputation is part of what draws divers into the water with these beguiling 
beauties
 
Although tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, have long been considered dangerous to 
humans, today there are a growing number of dive operations worldwide that focus on 
putting divers and the tigers in the water together. While some shark experts assert 
that these encounters are just an accident waiting to happen, it is interesting to note that
despite baiting, close proximity and almost daily interactions over the course of more 
than 13 years, there have been no reported attacks specifically involving tiger sharks 
and divers.

Partially to thank for that record are reputable dive operations that set up strict 
guidelines for these interactions, and which require all of their divers to adhere to a strict
set of rules. When these big predators show up, divers are required to continuously 
track them, maintain eye contact and point them out to the rest of the group.

Large Tiger Sharks generally approach warily with their noses to the sand as if following a scent like a bloodhound. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

Large Tiger Sharks generally approach warily with their noses to the sand as if following a scent like a bloodhound. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

Up-close, personal encounters have taught me that tiger sharks generally swim slowly 
and deliberately. When there are bait boxes in the water, other sharks, such as lemons 
and bulls, will swim directly to the bait. The tigers, however, approach warily, with their 
noses to the sand as if following a scent like a bloodhound. Ordinarily they don’t 
immediately compete with the other sharks, instead taking their time to investigate the 
smell. Despite their sluggish behavior, tiger sharks are very strong swimmers and 
extremely fast when they want to be. Their high back and dorsal fin can be used as a 
pivot, allowing them to spin quickly on their axis. This is why dive operations insist that 
divers maintain eye contact and keep track of the sharks as they pass, especially when 
they are nearby.

Tiger Sharks will sometimes grab the tether rope to one of the bait boxes and swim away with their prize. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

Tiger Sharks will sometimes grab the tether rope to one of the bait boxes and swim away with their prize. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

As soon as the tiger figures out that the smell is coming from the bait box, it often 
becomes focused and determined. I have seen a shark suddenly swim directly to the 
crate and grab the whole box, or one of the tether ropes, in its mouth and then swim 
away with its prize in tow. 
Formidable looking animals, these sharks are named for the dark, vertical stripes. It should be noted that they lose these stripes over time, as they get older and larger. Tiger 
sharks are also recognizable by their wide, blunt nose. They have very large mouths, 
with rows of 18 to 26 sharp, serrated teeth. Their powerful jaws allow them to crack 
open the shells of sea turtles and large clams. 
The stomach contents of captured tiger sharks have revealed almost anything you can 
imagine, including stingrays, sea snakes, seals, birds, squids, and even license plates 
and old tires. Large specimens can grow to 18 feet or more (5 meters) and weigh more 
than 1,900 pounds (900 kilograms). Tigers live up to 50 years in the wild. They have 
small pits on the snout, which hold electro-receptors called the ampullae of Lorenzini.

Tiger Sharks are not shy at all about coming in close to inspect your camera equipment, often bumping your dome port. ©Steve Rosenberg / www.rosenbergebooks.com

Tiger Sharks are not shy at all about coming in close to inspect your camera equipment, often bumping your dome port. ©Steve Rosenberg / www.rosenbergebooks.com

These enable them to detect electric fields, including the weak electrical impulses generated by potential prey. Tiger sharks also have a sensory organ called a lateral line 
on their flanks that allows them to detect minute vibrations in the water. These adaptations, their excellent eyesight and acute sense of smell make them fearsome 
nocturnal hunters, able to follow faint traces of blood in the water to their source, even in
murky water. The tiger will circle its prey and study it by prodding it with its snout before 
doing a taste test. This is somewhat reassuring when it is bumping into my camera port. Tigers are not at all shy about coming in close to inspect your cameras and check you 
out.

Diving with Tiger Sharks at night is an incredible experience. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

Diving with Tiger Sharks at night is an incredible experience. © Steve Rosenberg/ www.rosenbergebooks.com

Diving with tiger sharks at night is an incredible experience, albeit a daunting one, 
knowing that tigers had been present on the late afternoon dive. The night dives I have 
participated in have usually been in relatively shallow water, beginning at dusk to let the 
dive group form a close line on the bottom. Diving directly under the boat with lights 
mounted at the surface can add enough ambient light to allow divers to spot the sharks before they just appear in front of you.

These awesome predators are found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. Off 
the Atlantic coast of the United States, tiger sharks are found from Cape Cod, 
Massachusetts, to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Off the Pacific coast, tiger 
sharks are found from Southern California southward. They’re found in the Hawaiian, 
Solomon, and Marshall Islands. In the western Pacific they are found from Australia and
New Zealand, up through Indonesia, Fiji and Micronesia and as far north as Japan.

Tiger Sharks are easily recognizable by the vertical stripes on their sides. © Steve Rosenberg / www.rosenbergebooks.com

Tiger Sharks are easily recognizable by the vertical stripes on their sides. © Steve Rosenberg / www.rosenbergebooks.com

It is thought that tiger sharks bear offspring only every other year, usually two at a time. The tiger shark embryos fight each other in their mother’s womb and only the survivor is born. The tiger shark is the only species in its family that is ovoviviparous; its eggs hatch internally and the young are born live when fully developed. Unfortunately, tiger sharks are considered a Near Threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to excessive finning and 
fishing. They are still killed by man for sport. Tigers are especially vulnerable because 
they grow slowly, take many years to mature, and only reproduce every other year.
They are also hunted for their livers, which contain high levels of vitamin A that is 
processed into vitamin oil. This beautiful animal, often characterized as a man-eater, 
faces far more danger from men than it poses.

Check out the comprehensive eBook dive guides at www.rosenbergebooks.com

Ebooks can be downloaded to your smart phones, tablets and computers. You don’t need an Internet connection, so an eBook is a very convenient resource tool to bring along on a trip. You can add notes and comments to the eBook making it a great trip log, and you can share your notes using social media.

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About Author

Steve Rosenberg began diving in the early 1970’s. In the mid 70’s he began a career as a professional underwater photographer and photojournalist. Since that time he has produced over 20 destination guidebooks for international publishers including Lonely Planet, Cruising Guides and Aqua Quest Publications. For the past four years Steve has been publishing comprehensive eBook Dive Guides under the name Rosenberg Ebooks. For links to iBooks, Amazon and Google Play go to www.rosenbergebooks.com

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