Sand tiger sharks look menacing with their teeth, protruding out even when their mouths are closed. Despite their furious demeanor, these 6 to 9-foot sharks pose no threat to humans, which is beneficial to us as they live primarily in subtropical and warm temperate waters worldwide. In the United States, sand tiger sharks live along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. They prefer to swim in shallow waters but have been found in depths up to 200 meters.
Like many aquatic animals, sand tiger sharks use their gills for breathing underwater. However, like other shark species, sand tiger sharks do not have a swim bladder which keeps other fish buoyant underwater. Uniquely, sand tiger sharks gulp air from the surface, storing it in their stomachs. The stored air allows them to float motionless in the ocean. Without this adaptation, the sharks would sink to the bottom because sharks are denser than water. The sharks gobble up more than just air, but various prey! Their primary diet consists of fish, and they will hunt other sharks, squid, rays, and some shellfish. As they hunt, sand tiger sharks use their electroreceptors in their snouts to detect the electrical current of their prey hiding under the sand.
While there are no natural predators for adult sand tiger sharks, juveniles are at a greater risk of being hunted by larger shark species. Commonly, these sharks are an individual species, but they have been spotted hunting in a school. One account from North Carolina cites 100 sand tiger sharks working together off the coast to corral bluefin tuna, just in time for lunch!
These sharks might look intimidating, but they are considered sluggish by scientists and pose no threat to humans unless provoked. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there have only been 36 non-fatal and unprovoked attacks on humans since the year 1580. There have been no fatal sand tiger shark attacks ever. Seeing as these seemingly docile sharks mind their own business, humans have done a number on their population. Between 1980 and 1990, there was a 75% decline in sand tiger shark populations because of commercial fishing. Even today, due to their coastal habitat, sand tiger sharks fall victim to accidentally getting trapped in fishing nets, commonly referred to as bycatch. But in many countries, these misinterpreted creatures are still commercially hunted for their fins, meat, and oil. The increase in marine pollution further deteriorates their habitat and causes population loss. Revitalizing this species can be difficult, as female sand tiger sharks only give birth to two pups every two years.
Many conservation initiatives seek to reverse the population loss and restore ocean health. In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service named the sand tiger shark a species of concern, making it illegal to fish sand tiger sharks in United States waters. In addition, the species conservation status was updated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to vulnerable. This status means sand tiger sharks could very well find themselves on the endangered list soon.
Click here to find interesting facts and ways to help save sand tiger sharks. Better yet, visit our resident sand tiger sharks in our Main Gallery to understand firsthand how these sharks are vital to the health of our ocean planet.