The Tiger Shark is listed as the second most dangerous shark in the sea, after the Great White. But with our growing knowledge of shark behaviour, thanks to scientists, should they really be hallmarked as ‘deadly’ and described as ‘eating anything in their path’, or should we just learn to stay out of their way.
The tiger shark, most likely named after its distinctive black vertical markings, which disappear as it matures into the more classical uniform grey colouring, has been described as tough, mean and extremely deadly.
It has large eyes, and multiple layers of serrated jaws that cram the width of its blunt and robust head, and are strong enough to bite through a large tortoise shell. It uses its prominent dorsal fin to pivot and turn quickly, and has down-swept pectoral fins that help give its body lift in the water. Its powerful tail allows, within a moment, a forceful thrust when needed.
When hunting, this shark will wait patiently to attack. Like a sniper, it watches and decides when to strike.
Records show it has grown up to seven metres long and has weighed almost 800kg. Its habitat of choice is tropical and warm coastal waters, like the Bahamas
I asked shark conservationist Jupp Kerckerinck, who has just returned from his seventh dive trip to the Bahamas, about his experiences with Tiger Sharks, and in particular one special female he affectionately calls Emma.
Where do you dive with Tiger sharks
My favourite spot to swim with tiger sharks is Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. We take a boat called “The Dolphin Dream” out of Palm Beach and stay for six days.
How do they behave when you are with them
Sharks all have different personalities. I have never had a Tiger Shark that was aggressive, but there was one who took
a ‘curiousity bite’ at a diver. The guy ended up with 14 holes in his dive suit, but he did not have a scratch on his body. I took a video of this event.
Emma is probably the mostly photographed tiger shark in the world. I have known her for six years. I honestly believe that she recognizes people and though she comes very close she is never hostile.
Do you feel safe with them
Like most sharks, tigers are curious, but in the last two years that we have been diving with them we have found they are becoming more shy than in previous years. There must be a reason and we believe that they are being hunted for their fins. Most of the time on our last dive, they kept their distance, but after a while they came closer as you can see in the photo.
I feel totally safe with them and have never had a situation where they showed aggressive behaviour.
Are they in danger, and if so, what is their main threat
They are in great danger. The major threat they face is from sports fishermen and commercial fishermen who kill sharks for their fins and jaws. Friends who dive with me have all written to the Bahamas Tourism Board, trying to convince them that sharks left alive are worth more to their country than dead ones, and just recently, the Bahamas has stopped all shark fishing in the area.
What makes them special to you
As far as I know, tiger sharks have a good personality. I find them very intelligent, sometimes even playful. After six years of diving and interacting with tiger sharks, I have a completely different impression of them. Of course, they are wild animals with predatory skills, but they are not as dangerous to humans as many believe. They certainly are not brainless eating machines.
Photo by Mike Ellis
Jupp Baron Kerckerinck and Emma