Though it can grow quite large and has a mouth full of frightfully sharp teeth, the sand tiger shark is actually quite docile and has only rarely ever attacked humans. This shark is quite common in public aquaria.
The sand tiger is a fairly large shark, growing up to ten feet in length and weighing over 500 pounds. Despite the similar names, the sand tiger is not closely related to the tiger shark, and looks very different.
Sand tiger sharks have stocky bodies, and are grayish brown in coloration with a lighter underside and a smattering of reddish spots along their bodies. They have many rows of long, sharp teeth that earned them the nickname “ragged-tooth shark”.
Sand tiger shark females give birth to live young. Though they begin with as many as 50 embryos in their body, the biggest embryo will typically eat the smaller ones until only one remains. After eight to twelve months, the mother will give birth to a fully developed, three foot long baby shark.
Sand tigers feed at night. They hunt by sneaking up on their prey slowly and quietly. Common prey items include bony fish, sharks, and rays.
Sand tigers of South Africa and Australia go on very long migrations, traveling over 1,900 miles. As babies they prefer colder waters, and as they grow they travel north to mate, and then even further north to warm waters during pregnancy. Then the females will travel back south to colder waters to give birth.
As previously mentioned, the sand tiger is not related to the tiger shark. It is also not related to the nurse shark, despite its other common name, the grey nurse shark. Its scientific name – Carcharias Taurus – means “bull shark”, but it is also not closely related to the bull shark. It belongs to the order of mackerel sharks, which includes the great white, the mako, the basking shark, and the thresher shark.
Though it looks fearsome, it is actually quite an easygoing shark, and attacks on humans are rare. They are commonly found in commercial aquariums, where they do quite well compared to many other species of sharks, though they can have difficulties in tanks that are not large enough to accommodate them.
The IUCN lists the sand tiger shark as “Vulnerable”. Thanks to its very slow reproductive rate, any damage to the population can have consequences that are long lasting. In certain areas, they are taken as food fish, and its fins are also used to make shark fin soup. Overfishing is a serious concern.
Sand tigers were also frequently caught in shark nets in Australia and South Africa until this practice was discontinued. Shark nets would be set up around beaches to protect swimmers, causing many sand tigers to be caught and tangled in the gill nets. Since 2005, shark nets have fallen out of favor as there is little proof they actually prevent attacks on humans, and often end up causing harm to sharks such as the sand tiger who pose very little threat to swimmers.
Castro, Jose I. (2011). The Sharks of North America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
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