June Elasmobranch of the Month: Sand Tiger Shark
Updated: Jun 26
Author: Linda Weiss
Sand Tiger Shark
Sand tiger sharks are a relatively large species, measuring 2 m – 3.2 m (6.5-10.5 ft) in length and weighing 91-159 kg (200 to 350 lbs.). Their topside is light brown to brownish-gray in color with asymmetrical dark or rust colored spots that fade with age. They are cream to white on the underneath. Their snout is flattened and cone shaped. Their caudal (tail) fin is slightly forked with the upper lobe being significantly larger than the lower lobe and having a distinctive notch near the tip. Their other fins are triangular shaped and somewhat rounded at the ends. Their dorsal fins are of equal size. The eyes of the sand tiger shark are small. The sand tiger has approximately 85 teeth. They have a pointed, spike-shaped main cusp with a much smaller cusp on either side. Their teeth protrude from both the upper and lower jaws, visible even when the mouth is closed. This is the only shark species known to gulp air at the surface. They store the air in their stomachs to maintain neutral buoyancy, enabling them to float motionless in the water column.
Habitat and Distribution
The sand tiger shark is found in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean to Cameroon; in the Western Atlantic from Canada and the Gulf of Maine to Argentina; in the Indo-West Pacific from the Red Sea from Africa’s South coast to Japan, Korea and Australia.
This shark is often found in and around inshore habitats, including reefs, rocks and wrecks. They are located at depths down to 191 m (625 ft.)
The sand tiger’s diet consists of a wide range of fish including, bluefish, bonita, sea bass, mullet, snapper, herring and hake. The also prey on crab, lobster, squid, rays and smaller sharks.
Sand tiger reproduction takes place ovoviviparously with a gestation period of 9-12 months. Embryos develop inside the female, initially nourished by a yolk sac. Larger embryos then eat the smaller embryos, resulting in only one to two, 9 cm (39 in.) pups being born per litter. As they only reproduce every two years, sand tigers have the lowest known reproductive rate of all sharks.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists the Sand tiger shark as Vulnerable, with an unknown population trend.
Adult sand tiger sharks have no known natural predators. On the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, the sand tiger is a protected species from the long-line fishing industry. In South Africa and Australia, these sharks are taken by the commercial fishing industry, spearfishing and killed by beach meshing practices. Meshing is done by placing netting in the water as a fence to keep sharks from coming close to shore. Sharks and other marine life get tangled in the nets. Unable to free themselves they die. Sand tiger meat is eaten by humans, its liver oil is used in medicines and cosmetics and its skin is used to make leather products.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Pollard, D. & Smith, A. 2009. Carcharias taurus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T3854A10132481. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2009-2.RLTS.T3854A10132481.en. Downloaded on 10 June 2021.