Sand Tiger Shark

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Stefan Pircher/Shutterstock.com

The sand tiger is the shark most commonly seen in aquariums.


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Sand Tiger Shark Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Chondrichthyes
Order
Lamniformes
Family
Odontaspididae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Sand Tiger Shark Conservation Status

Sand Tiger Shark Locations

Sand Tiger Shark Locations

Sand Tiger Shark Facts

Prey
Bony fish, other sharks, crustaceans, squid, skates and rays
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Group
Fun Fact
The sand tiger is the shark most commonly seen in aquariums.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown, but its population decreased by 20 percent in just the last decade due to overfishing.
Biggest Threat
Humans
Most Distinctive Feature
It gulps air to keep buoyant.
Other Name(s)
spotted ragged-tooth shark, blue-nurse sand tiger, grey nurse shark, spotted sand tiger shark, chien de mer, dogfish shark, slender-tooth shark, magonga, requin taureau, ground shark
Gestation Period
Eight to twelve months
Habitat
Shallow tropical and temperate waters close to the shore
Diet
Carnivore
Type
Fish
Common Name
Sand tiger shark
Number Of Species
4

Sand Tiger Shark Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Grey-Brown
Skin Type
Rough
Top Speed
0.87 mph
Lifespan
13 to 35 years
Weight
110 to 660.79 pounds
Length
6.6 to 10.5 feet

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The Sand Tiger Shark is a large, grey, and fierce-looking shark found in various regions across the globe, known for their unique, needle-like teeth and low reproductive rate.
The Sand Tiger Shark is a large, grey, and fierce-looking shark found in various regions across the globe, known for their unique, needle-like teeth and low reproductive rate.

“The Sand Tiger Shark only looks ferocious!”

Though the sand tiger prowls the oceans with cold, staring eyes and a mouthful of sharp teeth, and the most gruesome part of its life cycle happens before it’s even born, the shark is actually peaceable.

It also tolerates captivity, and those sharks one sees swimming round and round in aquariums are often sand tigers.

4 Incredible Sand Tiger Shark Facts!

Sand tiger shark or grey nurse shark or spotted ragged-tooth shark, Carcharias taurus, Cape Infanta, South Africa, Indian Ocean

The life cycle of the spotted ragged-tooth shark is intriguing as the first offspring to reach 4 inches within the uterine horn consumes its smaller siblings and any unhatched eggs.

©Alessandro De Maddalena/Shutterstock.com

  • The spotted ragged-tooth shark has an interesting life cycle. The first baby to reach 4 inches in length in the uterine horn eats its smaller brothers and sisters and any unhatched eggs.
  • Because of the above, these sharks’ reproduction rate is one of the lowest of all sharks.
  • Male grey nurse sharks outnumber females two to one.
  • Despite its names, the sand tiger shark isn’t a close relative of either the tiger shark, the nurse shark, or the bull shark.

Evolution and Origins

The lineage of the Sandtiger Shark dates back almost as far as that of the Goblin Shark, around 97 to 112 million years ago, and its earliest known ancestor, Carcharias striatula, had fang-like fossilized teeth that resemble those of the current species.



The sand tiger shark can be found in various regions across the globe including the Eastern and Western Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.

Furthermore, sand tiger sharks reproduce through internal fertilization and give birth to around two pups every other year, with one pup developing in each uterus, however, their reproductive rate is quite low compared to other sharks due to intrauterine cannibalism where the largest embryo consumes other eggs and embryos until only one is left.

Classification and Scientific Name

Giant sand tiger shark swims in a cave.

The sand tiger shark is a member of the Carcharias genus and is scientifically known as Carcharias taurus.

©Stefan Pircher/Shutterstock.com

The sand tiger belongs to a genus of sharks called Carcharias, and its scientific name is Carcharias taurus. Carcharias comes from the Greek karkaharos, which means jagged or sharp, and taurus is Latin for bull.

There are four species, and here are some facts about them:

Different Species

animals eat their young: sand tiger shark

Sand Tiger Shark mothers eat their young while they are still in utero.

©iStock.com/mirror-images

  • Carcharias taurus. This is the classic sand tiger shark.
  • Carcharias tricuspidatus. This is the Indian sand tiger. Biologists don’t know much about it, and many suspect that it is the same species as C. taurus.
  • Odontaspis ferox. This shark is called the small-tooth sand tiger. It is found around the world in deeper waters.
  • Odontaspis noronhai. This is the bigeye sand tiger shark. The bigeye sand tiger is found in deeper waters than C. taurus, and scientists don’t know much about it.

Appearance

Sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) swimming with other fish in an aquarium.
Sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) swimming with other fish in an aquarium.

©Valeri Potapova/Shutterstock.com

The sand tiger has a robust, torpedo-shaped body. Its head comes to a point, with a cone-shaped snout. It’s generally about 10 feet long and weighs between 110 to as much as 661 pounds. Females are bigger than males.

The blue-nurse sand tiger swims with its mouth open, baring rows of ragged teeth that give it one of its many names. Unlike its cousin the bigeye sand tiger shark, C. taurus’ eyes are small. The shark is light grayish-brown on top with a pale belly, and it has coppery brown spots on its body and fins.

The pectoral fins are behind the last gill opening, and it has two spineless dorsal fins and anal fins that are all about equal in size. The tail has a long upper lobe and a short lower lobe.

Sand Tiger Shark vs. Tiger Shark

Many people confuse the sand tiger shark with the tiger shark, but they’re not closely related.

Here are some facts:

  • The sand tiger shark belongs to the Carcharias genus, while the tiger shark belongs to the Galeocerdo genus. Its scientific name is Galeocerdo cuvier.
  • The blue-nurse sand tiger shark is unusual in that its dorsal and anal fins are the same size. The tiger shark has one large and one small dorsal fin.
  • The sand tiger is brownish grey on top while the tiger shark is blue or even pale green with tiger stripes that fade as the animal gets older.
  • The sand tiger’s teeth are smooth and long and come to points like needles. The teeth of the tiger shark are razor-sharp, and serrated, and have tops that point sideways to not only tear through the meat but crush hard materials such as turtle shells.
  • The grey nurse shark eats smaller sharks, bony fish, and crustaceans. The bigger tiger shark has a much more varied diet that can include birds, seals, sea turtles, dolphins, and even human refuse.
  • The tiger shark is bigger than the grey nurse shark. It often grows to 16.5 feet long and can weigh over a ton.
  • The tiger shark is notorious for attacking humans, while the ragged-tooth spotted shark is more docile.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

These sharks are found around the world in warm waters, mostly off the east and southern coasts of the United States, the southeastern coast of South America, the Mediterranean, and off the coasts of Africa, Australia, China, and Indochina. Though it can dive to over 600 feet, it prefers shallow waters, where it hunts stealthily and at night.

Its population has declined because it is over-hunted, as its fins are used for shark fin soup, and the oil from its liver is used in cosmetics. It’s captured for display in aquariums around the world since it tolerates captivity.

Some people simply kill the shark because of its ferocious looks. It’s also caught in nets, and baby sharks are vulnerable to pollution.

Predators and Prey

Humans are the only animals that prey on these adult sharks. Baby sharks are eaten by larger sharks.

The sand tiger’s prey includes fish, smaller sharks, lobsters, squid, rays, and skates. Sometimes these sharks work together by herding fish into balls before they attack them. Sand tigers can be dangerous when they are in a feeding frenzy, for they’ll attack anything that’s nearby.

It’s also vulnerable to being parasitized by lampreys, which attach to the shark and drink its blood.

Reproduction and Lifespan

One of the reasons that sand tigers are in trouble is their unusual life cycle. Females only produce one or at most two pups at a time, and they only breed every two or three years. Before this, the male and female sharks engage in a courtship ritual that involves biting and circling.

Sand tiger sharks breed from August to December in the northern hemisphere and August to October in the southern hemisphere.

The female is gravid for about a year, then gives birth to one or two 3-foot-long pups who are immediately independent.

These sharks live about a dozen years in captivity but can live around 35 years in the wild.

Fishing and Cooking

These sharks are caught on lines, in nets, and are speared. Their fins are used to make shark fin soup.

Population

These sharks’ population is decreasing, and it is considered vulnerable to extinction. Biologists believe that there are only about 400 of these sharks of breeding age off the coast of eastern Australia, which is not enough to sustain the population.

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Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

Sand Tiger Shark FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are Sand Tiger Sharks Found? 

The spotted ragged-tooth sharks’ favorite habitats are around coral reefs, bays, and surf zones in warm seas in much of the world.

Are sand tiger sharks dangerous to humans?

Sand tiger sharks are not aggressive toward humans, but it is a large predator, and its very genus name refers to a mouth full of sharp teeth. It is prudent to be respectful of this animal.

What is the difference between a sand tiger shark and a tiger shark?

The tiger shark is much bigger and much more aggressive than the sand tiger shark. The two aren’t closely related.

Are sand tiger sharks extinct?

Sand tiger sharks are not extinct.

Where do sand tiger sharks live?

Sand tiger sharks live off the coasts of eastern North America and South America, east and southeast Asia, Africa and Australia.

What do sand tiger sharks eat?

They eat bony fish such as weakfish, sea bass, remoras, snappers, and eels, smaller sharks such as the smoothhound shark, and other cartilaginous fishes such as skates and rays. They also eat crabs, squid, and lobsters.

What are the differences between nurse sharks and grey nurse sharks?

The key differences between nurse sharks and grey nurse sharks are appearance, teeth, size, reproduction, habitat, and location.

What are the differences between grey nurse sharks and sand tiger sharks?

Sand tiger sharks and grey nurse sharks may sound like entirely different sharks. After all, sand tiger sharks may sound like a subspecies of the tiger shark, while the grey nurse shark may appear like a species of the nurse shark. However, both sharks are neither tiger nor nurse sharks, as both are species belonging to the genus Carcharias. 

What are the differences between the tiger shark and the sand tiger shark?

The major differences between the tiger shark and the sand tiger shark can be seen in their size, appearance, and reproductive processes

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. Florida Museum / Accessed July 10, 2021
  2. Wikipedia / Accessed July 10, 2021
  3. Shark References / Accessed July 10, 2021
  4. Animal Diversity Web / Accessed July 10, 2021