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Monday, November 20, 2017

Species Fact Profile: Sand Tiger Shark (Carcharias taurus)

Sand Tiger Shark (Gray Nurse Shark)
Carcharias taurus (Rafinesque, 1810)

Range: Temperate and Tropical Oceans Worldwide
Habitat: Shallow Waters, Bays, Reefs
Diet: Fish, Crustaceans, Cephalopods
Social Grouping: Solitary, Small Groups
Reproduction: Breed in October and November.  Gestation period 6-9 months.  Females give live birth (eggs hatch within the mother's body) in sheltered areas, typically breeding once every two years. Believed to be mature at 4-10 years (females take longer to mature than males)
Lifespan: 35 Years (Wild Estimate)
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable

  • Maximum length up to 6 meters and weighing up to 300 kilograms, but 3.5 meters long and weighing 95-110 kilograms is more typical.  Females are usually larger than males
  • Grey coloration, fading to dirty white on the underside, with some metallic brown or red spots on the sides
  • Snout is pointed and slender, and long teeth are visible even when the mouth is closed.  This gives the shark a fierce appearance, which results in their having a reputation for being more dangerous than they actually are
  • Although only two pups are usually born, a female may have hundreds of eggs inside their uterus,  The first pups to begin growth will eat the other, less-developed embryos in what is known as intra-uterine cannibalism
  • Populations at northern and southern extremes of the species range will migrate towards the equator in the winter and back towards the poles in the summer
  • Sometimes hunt cooperatively, working together to herd fish into congregations where they can be more easily seized
  • The first shark species to be granted legal protection.  Believed to be in decline, primarily due to overfishing for meat and fins, as well as accidental entanglements in nets set for other species; during 18th and 19th centuries, their liver oil was used in lighting

Zookeeper's Journal: Compared to the great white shark and many of the other large, predatory shark species, the sand tiger shark is a relatively placid fish, which adjusts well to life under human care.  As a result (and bouyed by the popularity inspired by its fearsome appearance), they are one of the most commonly kept large sharks in aquariums - they certainly were the first shark species that I ever saw growing up, and remain my archetypical "shark."  For large sharks, however, "easy" is a relative term with respect to captive care.  Large sharks don't swim in the wild as much as they glide; in an aquarium tank that is too small, they may have to swim much more actively than they would in the wild.  This sometimes results in a somewhat hunched posture for a shark.  The best tanks are the biggest ones which facilitate the constant motion that these sharks would employ in the wild.

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