Grey Nurse Shark vs Sand Tiger Shark: What are the Differences?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: July 30, 2022
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Contrary to common belief, sand tiger sharks and grey nurse sharks are no different species. Both sharks embody the same shark type; the only difference is their local names in which range they are found. Sand tiger sharks are a common name for the species Carcharias taurus in the United States. On the other hand, the term grey nurse shark is a common name for the same species lurking beneath Australia’s waters. In other words, the sand tiger shark is the name used in the Americas, while the grey nurse is used all over Australia. This article will explore the sand tiger shark’s appearance, habitat, diet, and more.

Are Grey Nurse Shark and Sand Tiger Sharks the Same?

Giant sand tiger shark swims in a cave.

The sand tiger shark is the same as grey nurse shark.

©Stefan Pircher/

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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. 

The sand tiger shark is a species of shark that lives in subtropical and temperate waters. Still, despite prowling the oceans with cold, piercing eyes and a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, the shark is peaceful. It also tolerates confinement, and sand tigers are frequently seen swimming around in aquariums.

Grey Nurse Shark vs. Sand Tiger Shark: Appearance

Nurse shark profile view
Grey nurse sharks have broad, round heads and blunt snouts with two barbels between the nostrils.

The sand tiger’s body is strong and torpedo-shaped; its head is pointed and has a nose in the shape of a cone. It typically measures around 10 feet long and weighs between 110 and 661 pounds. In addition to having a larger mouth than men, females are also larger overall.

With its mouth open and rows of ragged teeth on display, the blue-nurse sand tiger swims and goes by one of its numerous names. C. Taurus has smaller eyes than its cousin, the bigeye sand tiger shark. The shark has coppery brown patches on its body and fins and is light grayish-brown on top with a pale belly. It has two spineless dorsal fins and two almost equal-sized anal fins, all located beyond the final gill opening. It also possesses pectoral fins.

The most obvious distinction between nurse sharks and grey nurse sharks is their appearance, despite the latter being frequently confused with the former due to their similar names. Flattened in shape, nurse sharks have broad, round heads and blunt snouts with two barbels between the nostrils.

The body of a tiger shark is covered in a pattern of spots and stripes that resembles a tiger, hence the tiger shark moniker. Sand tiger sharks, on the other hand, are located in sandy locations and have reddish markings on their backs.

Grey Nurse Shark vs. Sand Tiger Shark: Habitat

Sand tiger sharks can be found in the epipelagic and mesopelagic sections of the ocean, estuaries, shallow bays, sandy coastal waters, and rocky or tropical reefs. They are frequently spotted trolling the ocean floor in the surf zone, very close to shore, and their name comes from their propensity for habitats along shorelines. 

Warm seas are where you may find these sharks all over the world. Still, they are most frequently found off the east and south coasts of the United States, the southeast coast of South America, the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Adriatic Sea. Additionally, they are found along the shores of China, Indochina, Australia, and Africa. Despite having a maximum depth of 600 feet, they prefer shallow waters where they may hunt covertly and at night.

Due to overhunting, the sand tiger shark’s population has decreased because its liver oil is used in cosmetics, and its fins are used to make shark fin soup. Due to its tolerance of captivity, it is captured and kept for exhibition in aquariums worldwide. Some folks kill the shark for its intimidating appearance.

Reproduction and migration of grey nurse sharks are strongly related. They breed annually in shallower water, then go to warmer, deeper water to give birth. The young pups normally remain in deeper water until they reach adulthood instead of making this migration.

Grey Nurse Shark vs. Sand Tiger Shark: Diet

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

Sand tiger sharks eat fish, rays, lobsters, squid, and fish.

©Valeri Potapova/

Fish, smaller sharks, rays, lobsters, squid, and skates are part of the sand tiger’s diet. These sharks occasionally cooperate by gathering fish into balls before attacking them. When they are in a feeding frenzy, sand tigers can be hazardous because they will attack anything in their vicinity. Most sand tigers’ prey comes from the ocean floor, indicating that they hunt widely on the sea floor out to the continental shelf. According to Stomach Content studies, smaller sand tigers primarily target the ocean floor, and as they get bigger, they start to take more benthic prey.

The nocturnal sand tiger shark hunts covertly at night. As the only shark known to suck air and store it in the stomach, it can keep its buoyancy close to neutral, enabling it to hunt silently without making noise.

These mature sharks are only preyed upon by humans. Although larger sharks devour baby sharks, the latter are equally susceptible to parasitic lampreys, which adhere to the shark and consume its blood.

Are Sand Tigers Dangerous?

Sand tigers may appear dangerous, considering their pointed teeth resemble the notoriously aggressive tiger sharks. However, contrary to popular belief, sand tigers do not harm humans unless provoked.

The idea that these sharks are harmful is frequently believed. They appear fiercer in their hunting activity when you look at them closely. Even when their mouths are closed, their three sets of short, sharp teeth are frequently apparent. However, sand tiger sharks are not known to harm humans unless provoked. Only about 50 sand tiger shark attacks have been documented, and none have resulted in fatalities. For a lot of centuries, this number has not changed. Although they prefer to avoid people, they have been observed to take fish from spear and net fishers. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alessandro De Maddalena/

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