Sand Tiger Sharks: The Facts

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The North Carolina Sand Tiger (Carcharias taurus) is also commonly called the ragged-tooth in South Africa and the gray nurse in Australia.

These sharks have a catlike eye and a mouthful of wicked looking teeth. They are light gray in color, white on their stomachs, and juveniles have a series spots on their sides which gradually disappear as they mature. They have a pointed, slightly upturned snout, and rows of teeth that are shed completely over a 2 week period. The fins are large and fleshy and provide hydro-dynamic lift. The first dorsal is situated fairly far back, and is close to the second dorsal, which is almost as large as the first. The tail is long and arching with a hook at the end. The sand tiger can reach lengths of over ten feet. In some part of the world they are considered harmless, while in others they are considered very dangerous.

Off the coast of North Carolina scuba divers regularly dive with dozens of sand tigers which congregate around the wreck of the Hutton (formerly known as the Papoose). The Hutton was torpedoed by the U-124 during WWII and provides a wonderful habitat for these magnificent creatures. In American waters, Carcharias taurus is considered to be unaggressive and fairly easy to catch. The sand tiger can be found in the waters of Australia, South Africa, South America, Japan, India, and China.

Sharks make up the Chondrichthyes, or “cartilaginous fish.” Cartilaginous fish include both predators like the sand tiger and harmless mollusc-eaters like the Atlantic stingray. Members of Chondrichthyes are boneless and have a skeleton composed of cartilage (a flexible structure like the ones in your nose and ears). Their teeth are calcified. Cartilage has a different structure from that of true bone. Most sharks eat fish, squid, marine mammals, and scavenge any other available food source.

Evidence for the existence of sharks dates from the Ordovician period, 450-420 million years ago, before land vertebrates existed and before many plants had colonized the continents. Only scales have been recovered from the first sharks and not all paleontologists agree that these are from true sharks, suspecting that these scales are actually those of thelodont agnathans. The oldest generally accepted shark scales are from about 420 million years ago, in the Silurian period. The first sharks looked very different from modern sharks. The majority of modern sharks can be traced back to around 100 million years ago.

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ISAF Statistics for Worldwide Unprovoked Shark Attacks

Courtesy: The International Shark Attack File – Shark Attack Trends

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Attacking Species of Sharks (1580-Present) Attacks
Carcharodon carcharias Great White 314
Galeocerdo cuvier Tiger 111
Carcharhinus leucas Bull 100
Carcharias taurus Sand Tiger 29
Carcharhinus spp. Requiem 51

Statistics on Attacking Species of Shark

Updated 2/17. Some of this information is courtesy of H. David Baldridge 1974