How to Spot a Tiger Shark

Three Methods:Noticing Their AppearanceSpotting Sharks in the WaterObserving Their Behavior with Caution

Tiger sharks live in the warm coastal waters of tropical areas. They are one of the most dominant predators in the ocean, and their serrated teeth help them to tear meat apart like a saw. Their name comes from their coloring, which is dark spots and stripes, although these markings fade in adulthood. You may try to catch a glimpse of a tiger shark near a reef or ocean wharf, but be very careful to stay out of the water. Tiger sharks will attack humans.

Method 1
Noticing Their Appearance

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    Look at their nose. If you see a tiger shark, you will know it by the distinct shape of its nose. The snout on a tiger shark is wide and blunt.[1] It is also short. The nostrils are quite wide, almost in line with its eyes, which are on opposite sides of its body.[2]
    • When a tiger shark raises its head, you should be able to see a frown because the lips come inward a bit, slightly exposing the gums in a perpetual grimace.
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    Observe their length. Tiger sharks grow to become some of the largest sharks in the world. Large species can get up to as long as 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 meters) and weigh about 1,900 pounds (900 kg).[3] However, many remain under 15 feet (4.5 meters) and less than 1,800 pounds (800 kg). [4]
    • Baby tiger sharks (called pups) are born between one and three feet long (40-90 cm) and grow fast the first few years of their lives.
    • Pups potentially double in size their first year.
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    Observe the skin color. Color is important with tiger sharks because their name is derived from the stripes visible along their backs (there are often spots of the same shade). The shark itself is usually gray and the vertical stripes are darker, close to black. However, the stripes usually fade in older adult tiger sharks.[5]
    • Tiger sharks can also be blue or light green. Their underbellies are usually white or light yellow.[6]
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    Look at the head shape and dorsal fins. Aside from its stripes, a clear indicator you are observing a tiger shark is its distinctive head shape and dorsal fin location. Tiger shark heads are large and shaped like wedges, with the blunt nose and wide nostrils on the end. The fins are long, especially the upper tail. The dorsal fins are close to the tail, a placement that is unique to tiger sharks.[7]
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    Check out the teeth. Finally, tiger shark teeth are distinctive. They are large and curved with serrated edges. There is a notch on the outside edge of each tooth. The teeth are the same on the top and bottom. They get progressively smaller the closer they get to the corners of the mouth.[8]
    • When they eat, they shake their heads back and forth so that the teeth produce a saw-like motion, making use of those serrated edges.
    • The jaws are quite powerful.[9]

Method 2
Spotting Sharks in the Water

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    Find a place to watch the water. If you want to observe tiger sharks, find a position from which to observe them. They hunt at night or on cloudy days near the coastline of tropical water. Since they prefer areas where other wildlife gather, such as coral reefs, river estuaries, and wharves, look for ways to observe these areas. [10]
    • To be safe while watching for tiger sharks, stay out of the water. Sit on a dock, on the beach, or in a large boat.
    • Keep your eyes on the water. Look for a dorsal fin that is near the upper tail fin. [11]
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    Bring the right equipment. If you are trying to avoid coming in contact with a tiger shark but still want to observe it, you might need binoculars. A telescope could also be helpful. You might be quite a distance from the tiger shark location, especially if you are playing it safe.
    • Don’t try to snorkel in an attempt to observe tiger sharks.
    • Other things you might bring include a camera and a phone (and first aid kit) for emergencies. Bring along phone numbers for local emergency personnel, the Coast Guard, etc.
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    See them at night and on cloudy days. Tiger sharks are nocturnal, rising to the surface to hunt for food either at night or on days that are overcast. They swim close to shorelines to do their hunting.[12] If you are trying to observe a tiger shark, it is best to do so on a cloudy day.
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    Look for a solo dorsal fin. Tiger sharks usually hunt and live on their own, although they will sometimes join in with other sharks. Usually pods of tiger sharks don’t get larger than six members.[13] If you’re trying to spot a tiger shark, look for a dorsal fin that is all by itself.
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    Find them in murky tropical waters. Tiger sharks love coastlines. In fact, they patrol them. Studies have shown that tiger sharks swim up and down the length of land masses to hunt for prey.[14] They also prefer river estuaries, lagoons, harbors, wharves, reefs, anywhere in the water where smaller animals congregate. They tend to live in warm water.[15]
    • Tiger sharks are predominantly located in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast U.S. area and in South America along the coast of Brazil. They also have a strong presence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
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    Look at what they're eating. Tiger sharks are carnivores, known to eat pretty much anything they can find. They eat other sharks and fish as well as sea turtles, birds, sting rays, dolphins, squid, and crustaceans.[16]
    • They are good scavengers due to their keen senses of sight and smell.[17]
    • Researchers have found all kinds of things in tiger shark stomachs, including antlers and trash.[18]

Method 3
Observing Their Behavior with Caution

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    Stay out of the water if you see a tiger shark. Take measures to avoid being attacked. As far as shark attacks on people, tiger sharks rank only behind the great white shark in frequency of attacks. And unlike the great white, tiger sharks don’t swim away after biting a human.[19] However, tiger shark attacks are rare. For example, in Hawaii, there is only an average of one shark attack per year (and it’s not always a tiger shark).[20] Get out of the water as soon as you spot a dorsal fin.
    • Be aware of your surroundings. Because tiger sharks will eat anything, make sure you aren’t swimming near small sea creatures or in lagoon-like areas of tropical water.
    • In the U.S., shark attacks are most frequent in the Daytona Beach area, along the Atlantic Coast.[21] It is believed that most of these attacks are by blacktip and blacknose sharks.[22]
    • There are only 111 recorded unprovoked tiger shark attacks worldwide in the last 400 years. Only 31 were fatal.[23]
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    Keep in mind they are close to being endangered. Humans haven’t left tiger sharks alone. They are in fact considered big game. They are hunted for their skin, fins, meat, and livers, which contain high levels of vitamin A. However, they are considered a “near threatened” species.[24]
    • They take a long time to repopulate, so overfishing of tiger sharks will eventually lead to their extinction.
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    Visit a tiger shark in an aquarium. It is rare, but you may be able to find an aquarium with a tiger shark. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, took on a female tiger shark in 2009. Most aquariums are new to caring for tiger sharks, so they have to be very cautious.[25]


  • Find a picture of tiger sharks so you know clearly what they look like before you look for them.
  • Take notes on what tiger sharks look like so that the next time you search for one, you'll know what to look for.


  • Tiger sharks are one of the most dangerous sharks to humans. NEVER get in the water near a tiger shark. Stay alert when you are swimming at any beach near the tiger shark habitat.
  • Don’t make tiger sharks aware of your presence.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Fish | Wildlife