Under the Sea — January 19, 2015 at 5:00 am

The Aquatic Kings Of The Jungle: Tiger Sharks

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©istockphoto

©istockphoto

A biological garbage disposal by every sense, the tiger shark is a marvel of the open oceans. And consuming anything from the carapaces of sea turtles to the adipose tissue of a decomposing humpback whale, it’s a well-deserved moniker. In fact, there’s no other shark that’s so caught-up in the predator-prey food web; they being the macro-predator, of course.

Where they Reign
Tiger sharks inhabit the tropical coastal waters of the world’s oceans, often occupying the upper-stretches of the water column; most tiger sharks don’t dive under forty or so feet. But there have been exceptional specimens documented as far as nine-hundred feet below the surface. In that aquatic niche, the tiger sharks reign king, patrolling their coastal habitats in a constant state of motion; tiger sharks, like most other sharks, rely on the circulation of fresh, oxygen-laden water over their gill-slits, in order to breath.

Origins and Family
Rightfully named for their tiger-like stripping, tiger sharks are one of the largest predators found in the wake. Belonging to the “gray” shark family, Carcharhinidae, tiger sharks are, metaphorically speaking, the black sheep of the cartilage-laden family—well, maybe more striped than black. And reaching lengths of fifteen-feet long, they rival their terrestrial kin, in regards to sheer presence.

What’s on the Menu
Often called “the garbage disposals of the sea,” tiger sharks feed on a wide array of prey items. Such an odd ball food source—and among one of their preferred prey items—are sea turtles. Now, initially, that affinity toward such a well-protected animal may come as a surprise. Why would such a well-armored reptile represent a food-staple in the tiger shark’s life? But, just like every other aspect of nature, there’s reasoning for every connection. Anatomically speaking, tiger sharks have evolved a jaw structure that’s perfectly suited for consuming such a reptile. Their heavily serrated, slightly re-curved teeth are adapted to not only holding the turtle’s carapace from escape, but also—when force is applied via the shark’s saw-like head shaking motion—the serrated teeth then cut away at the turtle’s shell, allowing the predator to consume tidbits of sea turtle, shell and all.

©istockphoto/http://www.flickr.com/photos/113157953@N02/12276099374

©istockphoto/http://www.flickr.com/photos/113157953@N02/12276099374

The Misnomers
Tiger sharks—like the jungle feline they’re named after—have also been plagued with the unfortunate moniker “man eater.” Annually, less than five people are fatally attacked by sharks of any kind. But, because of their sheer size and fearless, curious nature, tiger sharks often find themselves at the tail-end of a pointless witch hunt, ending with their bloodied bodies displayed at a local peer for photo opportunities.

“For a mere twenty-dollars, you can have your picture taken side-by-side with a man eating monster,” is the dialogue I’ve always envisioned echoing across such peer, bathed in greed and gluttony. And it’s this unfortunate series of events that’s dwindles their population counts. Statistically speaking, for every individual who’s fatally mauled by misguided shark, humans will fish and kill twenty-million sharks; that’s an astonishing figure.

Tiger sharks—again, like their terrestrial counterparts—are in need of our conservation efforts. The once kings of the coastal oceans are now being dethroned by fishing lines and drag nets. Forgo the lure of a shark fin products and when presented with such a photo opportunity, politely walk away from it; instead marvel at the majesty of these great sea beasts.

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