Tiger sharks are common in coastal waters worldwide in tropical and temperate waters. They have a distinct, broadly rounded snout and serrated teeth. Juveniles have visible spotting patterns that fade into light grey stripes as they mature. Studies show a broad distribution in habitat, and tracking studies have shown that tiger sharks can swim 30 miles in 24 hours. Tiger sharks are known to come into shallower coastal waters, usually at night. Lengths of 19.6 feet have been documented, but overall, it’s rare to encounter a tiger shark over 15 feet in length.
Tiger sharks have a highly varied diet and are sometimes referred to as the garbage can of the sea. This species primarily feeds on bony fish, green sea turtles, birds, and invertebrates. However, other stomach contents have been discovered, including garbage such as license plates, feather-coated coop, raincoats, and animal antlers, to name a few. Tiger sharks give live birth to a litter size of 10-82 pups and an ovulation period of 15-16 months. Tiger sharks are a bold species, but incidents recorded on the Hawaiian Islands remain low, averaging 1-2 per year.
Elasmobranch species, which include sharks, rays, and skates, can detect electromagnetic signals coming from the muscle movements of other organisms. A concentration of pores near the nostrils, around the head, and on the underside of the snout are called ampullae of Lorenzini and detect electrical signals given off by living organisms. When light is scarce in murky water or at depths and vision is impaired, this sixth sense is useful in locating prey. In some species, electroreception is also used as a compass during migration.
Sharks play a crucial role as apex predators in keeping marine ecosystems balanced by removing sick, injured, and diseased animals. This makes sharks vital to maintaining a clean and healthy ocean.
In Hawai‘i, sharks were worshipped, cared for, and protected as an ‘aumakua, or family deity while others viewed sharks as an important source of food and tools. Those who had the shark as their ‘aumakua wouldn’t hunt or eat sharks. They believed their departed ancestors took the form of a shark and would feed and protect the shark, and in return, the shark would protect the family. Shark stories are widespread in Hawaiian literature and make for a fascinating read. As a cultural consultant to the Maui Ocean Center, Kahu Dane Maxwell blesses each shark entering or leaving the park.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, we cannot guarantee the presence of any specific animal.