The tiger shark is a large marine predator named for the dark stripes on its body. They are frequently found in tropical and sub-tropical oceans, most notably in the Pacific Ocean. Tiger sharks have a reputation for ferocity and scavenging, and are listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN.)
At birth, a tiger shark is between 20-30 inches (51-76 cm) in length. Adult sharks grow to be 10-25 ft (3.25-7.5 m) long and weigh about 850-1900 lbs (385-900 kg.) As juveniles, the dark, tiger-like stripes are clearly visible, but they tend to fade with age. The tiger shark is believed to live about 50 years in the wild, but consistent hunting of the species makes this data uncertain.
The tiger shark is one of the only sharks to be ovoviviparous, meaning its pups are born live. Gestation lasts a little over one year, and typical female will bear between 10-80 pups. The young sharks are independent from birth, and in fact avoid other tiger sharks until they have grown, as adult tiger sharks have been known to eat juveniles.
Tiger sharks are scavengers, and will eat anything that they can catch. Because of their excellent eyesight, these sharks seem to prefer murky waters, where prey may not notice them. They are often called ocean trashcans or wastebaskets for their habit of devouring garbage. Captured specimens often have trash inside their stomachs, including license plates, tires and scrap metal. Their preferred diet seems to consist mainly of seals, which may lead to their numerous attacks on surfers as some scientists suggest they may misidentify humans as seals.
While shark attacks on humans are quite rare, tiger sharks have been involved in many fatal incidents. Deservedly or not, the tiger shark is particularly feared off the coasts of Hawaii, where several documented attacks have taken place. The most recent confirmed human fatality by a tiger shark was on the island of Maui in 2004. As with most shark attacks, the victim was not killed outright by the shark, but died of severe blood loss after the attack. There is no evidence to support theories that tiger sharks eat humans as part of their diet, as typically tiger sharks disappear after delivering a bite to a human.
Because of their aggressive reputation, protection efforts to guard the species have been limited. In an effort to aid tourist revenues, Hawaii conducted a hunt for tiger sharks between 1959-1976, resulting in the slaughter of at least 4,000 of the sharks. Tiger sharks are hunted for their teeth, skin, fins and liver. The vitamin A present in the liver of the shark is highly sought after for use in vitamin products. As a result of commercial fishing, population numbers do seem to be dropping, leading to concern among environmentalists.
Very few organizations exist to protect the tiger shark from population harm. If you wish to aid the species, you should check ingredients of vitamin supplements carefully to determine if they contain shark-derived ingredients. You may also wish to avoid purchasing any sharkskin products. While these animals are far from cuddly, they play a vital role in the marine ecosystem. As apex predators, they maintain populations of many other species at a balanced level.