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Creature Case Study: Sand Tiger Shark

The sand tiger shark – not to be confused with the tiger shark – can often be perceived as quite fearsome. This is due to its large appearance and rows of sharp, pointy teeth that protrude out of its mouth even when its jaws are shut. Its daunting appearance can be linked to its relation with the great white shark – they’re cousins.

Unlike the great white, the sand tiger shark is actually very friendly and gentle and is often found swimming alongside divers. Also referred to as grey nurse sharks, ground sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, and slender-tooth sharks, sand tiger sharks grow to lengths of 11 feet and weigh up to 350 pounds.

There are actually four different species of sand tiger sharks:
– The Indian sand tiger shark
– The small-toothed sand tiger shark
– The large-eyed sand tiger shark
– The sand tiger shark (most famous of all)

Scientifically known as the Carcharius taurus, these aquatic giants are very sociable and exhibit social behaviours similar to that of mammals. Let’s have a closer look at these friendly swimmers and find out more about their habits.

Where Can You Find Them?

These bulky underwater giants can be found in coastal waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They often swim in shallow waters and sandy bays – hence their name.
Sand tiger sharks are fond of warm sea temperatures and travel to even warmer waters when they’re mating. During their mating season, they migrate further to find warm waters for the rest of their pregnancies. It’s only in the summer that female sand tigers return to cool waters to give birth to their pups.

Growing Up

Unlike other aquatic creatures, the sand tiger shark only gives birth to one or two pups every two years. Sand tigers are ovoviviparous, this means eggs develop inside their bodies and then continue to develop until they are born as young sand tiger pups.
Females have two uteruses because young embryos feed on other embryos until there is only one left in the womb – known as intrauterine cannibalism or adelphophagy (“eating one’s brother”). This competitive nature stays with sand tigers through their juvenile years, as young sharks are often consumed by larger sharks (some being sand tigers themselves) – this is why sand tigers migrate to safer places to grow up.

What’s for Dinner?

Sand tigers are great hunters and they feed on fish such as skates, rays, herring, snappers, eels, mackerels, and other fish. In some cases, they can even feed on smaller sharks. Due to their size and strength, sand tigers can eat just about anything they want in the ocean and even swallow it whole. However, they are not known to attack humans.
This species of shark hunts together. They swim in groups to drive swarms of fish together in a huddle, which makes them easy prey.

Special Traits

Similar to their great white cousins, sand tigers do not have any eyelids, so don’t be worried if they’re constantly staring at you. To protect and keep their eyes clean, they simply roll them back into their sockets.
Sand tigers have a unique trait when it comes to their breathing. Like all fishes, they breathe through their gills, but sharks have two different methods of breathing: buccal pumping and ram ventilation.

Buccal pumping means the shark takes in water via its mouth and then pumps it over its gills using its cheek muscles. Ram ventilation is when a shark moves forward, takes in water, and rams it through its gills. To breathe using ram ventilation, sharks must move constantly in order to breathe.

Sand tiger sharks can breathe both ways and switch between methods when needed. The sand tiger shark is also the only shark known to come to the surface of the water to gulp air. The air from the surface is not used to breathe: it is stored in the sand tiger’s stomach to make it more buoyant, and it uses this to float just above the ocean floor looking for prey.

These fascinating creatures are definitely wonders of the ocean, and you have the chance to see them up-close, and personal. Make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter @BluePlanetUK for all the latest ocean breaking news.

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