How to Identify a Sand Tiger Shark

Though the sand tiger shark (Carcharias Taurus ), or the spotted ragged-tooth shark as it is known in South Africa, has an extremely fierce appearance, it is in fact relatively docile and is not prone to attack humans without provocation. This fairly slow-moving species of shark inhabits subtropical and temperate waters worldwide. You may have even encountered one before. Because of its tolerance for captivity, this is the large shark most widely kept in public aquariums.


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    Note the coloration. Most sand tiger sharks have light brown or light greenish-gray backs and pale, grayish-white undersides. Adults usually have rust-colored spots scattered on the body, chiefly on the hind part of the body.
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    Observe the head structure and teeth. Sand tiger sharks have pointy heads with a flattened, conical snout and a long mouth that extends behind their eyes. They frequently swim with their mouth open, displaying three rows of protruding, smooth-edged, sharp-pointed teeth. Even when the mouth is shut, the teeth protrude in all directions, giving them a distinct menacing look. Numerous small teeth are present in the corners of the mouth.
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    Look at the fins. It is easy to confuse the sand tiger shark with the small-toothed sand tiger shark (Odontaspis ferox ) or, the less common, large-eyed sand tiger shark (Odontaspis noronhai ). However, sand tiger sharks have a distinctive, asymmetrical caudal fin (tail fin) with a more pronounced, notched upper lobe. In addition, the hind dorsal fin and the front dorsal fin of a sand tiger shark are almost equal in size. These large, broad-based grey fins are set back beyond the pectoral fins. Thus, the front dorsal is much closer to the pelvic fins than the pectoral fins. A male sand tiger shark can also be recognized by the grey, white-tipped claspers which are located on the underside of the body.
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    Try to determine the size. The sand tiger is a large, bulky shark and this may be the first thing you notice. The average size of a sand tiger shark ranges from four to nine feet. The maximum length in males is about 9.9 feet (301 cm) while females can reach up to around 10.5 feet (320 cm).
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    Keep the habitat and range in mind. Sand tiger sharks are so-called because they have a tendency towards sandy shoreline habitats and can often be spotted very close to the shore. It has also been found that they like to linger socially beneath cliff overhangs or other similar structures. Divers typically encounter sand tiger sharks in such environments. The geographical range of sand tiger sharks is also quite well-documented. They commonly inhabit the Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. However, any spotting in the Caribbean waters, eastern Pacific or New Zealand is rare. If you encounter a shark in these regions, it is probably not a sand tiger shark.
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    Observe its behavior. The sand tiger shark is the only shark known to come to the surface and gulp air, which it then stores in its stomach. This enables the shark to become neutrally buoyant in the water column and hover motionless in the water. It has also been observed that when close enough to the prey, sand tiger sharks grab with a quick, sideways snap. They are nocturnal hunters and often hunt in groups when preying upon large shoals of fish. Although they are strong swimmers, they generally appear lethargic and swim slowly.


  • If you’re observing the shark in a large aquarium, you could spot some distinctive mating behaviour. In the northern hemisphere, mating occurs around March or April while in the southern hemisphere it’s during August-October.
  • Diving is one way in which you can encounter a sand tiger shark in its natural habitat. Most divers are able to get close without hesitation. However, remember that these are shy creatures and will swim away if you get too close.


  • Take all proper precautions. Though they are generally harmless, there have been a few instances of unprovoked sand tiger shark attacks on humans, mainly due to spear fishing, line fishing or shark feeding.
  • It is illegal to harvest any part of the sand tiger shark on the United States' Atlantic coast. This is a threatened species that is protected in much of its range. If a sand tiger shark is caught, release it immediately without causing any harm.

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Categories: Wildlife