11 Facts About Tiger Sharks

iStock
iStock

Weighing 1300 pounds or more and growing up to 15 feet, the tiger shark is the fourth-largest shark on earth. (Only whale sharks, basking sharks, and great whites get bigger.) On top of being big, tiger sharks are also pretty bizarre: They literally eat garbage, give birth to massive litters—and one of them was a player in Australia’s greatest unsolved murder mystery.

1. THEY’RE LIKE SWIMMING GARBAGE DISPOSALS.

Tiger sharks have broad diets: They eat everything from albatrosses, venomous sea snakes, and other sharks to manmade objects like paint cans, leather jackets, rubber tires, and even license plates. (That scene in Jaws where Hooper pulls a Louisiana plate from the stomach of a dead tiger shark is scientifically accurate!)

2. DON’T CONFUSE THEM WITH SAND TIGER SHARKS.

You might assume that the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and the sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) are cousins, but the latter is more closely related to the great white (Carcharodon carcharias) than it is to the tiger shark.

3. NOT ALL OF THEM HAVE STRIPES.

Hear the word tiger and you think vertical stripes, but those stripes evolve over time. Baby tiger sharks—a.k.a. pups—are covered in roundish gray spots that fuse into stripes as the sharks mature. After a certain age, the stripes start to fade; they’re barely visible in full-grown adults.

4. TIGER SHARKS PREFER WARM WATER.

Tiger sharks are seen in tropical to warm temperate waters all over the world, and a study published in Global Change Biology in March 2018 revealed that the sharks have a "Goldilocks" zone. “Our study suggests that 22 degrees [Celsius, 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit] is not too cold for the animals and it’s not too hot for them,” lead author Nicholas Payne told the BBC. “It’s about right in terms of their optimal preference for temperature.” The scientists reached that conclusion after monitoring tagged sharks near Hawaii and comparing those findings to several decades’ worth of Australian fishing records.

5. THEY HAVE NOTCHED TEETH.

the teeth of the tiger shark with serrated edges

If you could pry open a tiger shark’s jaws, you’d see teeth with dramatic notch tips that point sideways. You'd also notice that the teeth on the left and right halves look like mirror images of each other. A tiger shark’s teeth have a dual function: They help the fish grasp onto struggling victims and can shear right through the thickest of hides, making them well-equipped to go after just about any prey that’s available.

6. THEY MIGHT BE THE ONLY SHARKS TO REGULARLY HUNT SEA TURTLES.

Every year, 12,000 nesting sea turtles visit Raine Island in the Great Barrier Reef, and tiger sharks—which hunt the turtles—aren't far behind.

To get its meal, the shark first has to get a good grip, but the turtle doesn't make it easy: When a shark gets too close for comfort, a turtle may respond by turning itself sideways so the top of the carapace is perpendicular to the shark’s jaws, making themselves too wide to bite into. Turtles in this position will also swim in tight circles around the predator, which protects the reptile’s vulnerable flanks.

According to a 2016 study, the sharks tend to avoid healthy turtles and instead conserve energy by going after sick or dying (or dead) turtles.

7. SEA GRASS SEEMS TO BENEFIT WHEN TIGER SHARKS ARE AROUND.

Though Australia's Shark Bay is home to a diverse array of organisms, it got its moniker for the 28 shark species that have been seen there—including tigers, which are especially common.

Sea grasses are the backbone of Shark Bay's ecosystem; they provide shelter for small animals and food for big herbivores. But the grasses were decimated after a 2011 heat wave. Since then, they've been making a gradual comeback, and scientists have noticed that they grow at a higher rate in places frequented by tiger sharks. This is probably because the sharks frighten off sea turtles and dugongs who like to eat the grass. “Just the fear of sharks can be enough, in many cases, to keep a marine ecosystem healthy and able to respond to stresses,” biologist Michael Heithaus said in a news release.

8. TIGER SHARKS GIVE BIRTH TO HUGE LITTERS.

Female tiger sharks are pregnant for 14 to 16 months and give birth to at least 10 pups, with around 30 being the average. But sometimes, they have many, many more than that: There have been reports of females birthing 80 pups at once. Usually, newborns weigh between six and 13 pounds.

9. IN THE ATLANTIC, THEY MIGRATE SOUTH FOR THE WINTER.

There's still a lot to learn about the travel habits of tiger sharks. A seven-year study found that Hawaiian females tend to travel more often—and more widely—around the island chain than males do. Another analysis, published in 2015 in Scientific Reports, focused on 24 adult tiger sharks in the Atlantic and found that, in the winter months, they stayed in the area around the Caribbean and West Indies. Then, for summer, they headed north and spent the warmest part of the year in the mid-Atlantic, venturing as far north as Connecticut (and far away from the coast). No one knows why the sharks make the trip, but it may have something to do with the young loggerhead turtles who dwell in those northern waters.

10. ONE TIGER SHARK BARFED UP A MURDER MYSTERY.

In April 1935, Coogee Aquarium in Sydney, Australia was looking for a big fish to occupy its newly-built pool. On a fishing trip off Coogee beach, Bert Hobson snared a 13-foot tiger shark for the aquarium.

The shark was a big hit at the aquarium, but it didn’t last very long. Seven days after its arrival, it got sick and vomited up a bird, a rat, some nasty-looking brown goo—and a human arm, which had a rope tied around its wrist and a forearm tattoo of two boxers.

An amateur boxer named James Smith had recently gone missing, and he had the exact same tattoo on one arm. Forensic analysis determined that the arm hadn’t been bitten off—it had been removed from the rest of Smith's body with a knife.

Detectives learned that Smith was last seen playing cards at the Hotel Cecil in Cronulla with his longtime associate Patrick Brady, a forger, who quickly became the number one suspect. The authorities were later informed by a boat-builder (and suspected criminal) named Reginald Holmes that Brady had murdered Smith in an argument. But before Holmes could testify in court, somebody shot him.

Brady's lawyers argued that a severed arm didn’t constitute proof of a murder. Smith, they argued, might still be alive somewhere—sans one limb, of course. Brady got off scot-free, which was more than could be said for the poor tiger shark—it died in captivity. A necropsy did not reveal any other human remains.

11. IT’S RARE, BUT TIGER SHARKS HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO SHARE FOOD WITH CROCODILES AND GREAT WHITES.

Bloated, rotting whale carcasses lure all kinds of animals out of the woodwork. Carnivores that normally don’t cross paths sometimes end up feasting on the dead mammals side-by-side. In 2015, two great whites and three tiger sharks were filmed tearing into the colossal body of a sperm whale near New South Wales, Australia. Years earlier, off the South African coastline, witnesses saw members of both species eating a Byrd’s whale carcass [PDF]. Australian drone footage from 2017 (above) shows a humpback carcass getting picked apart by both tiger sharks and saltwater crocodiles. Look at the video closely and you’ll see the croc and fish coming within a few yards of each other.

Hundreds of Kangaroos Roam the Green at This Australian Golf Course

burroblando/iStock via Getty Images
burroblando/iStock via Getty Images

Anglesea Golf Club has all the makings of a regular golf club: an 18-hole golf course, a mini golf course, a driving range, a clubhouse, and a bistro. But the kangaroo mobs that hop around the holes add an element of surprise to your otherwise leisurely round of one of the slowest games in sports.

Person takes photo of a kangaroo
Anglesea Golf Club

According to Thrillist, the kangaroos have been a mainstay for years, and the club started giving tours a few years ago to ensure visitors could observe them in the safest way possible. For about 25 minutes, a volunteer tour guide will drive a golf cart with up to 14 passengers around the course, sharing fun facts about kangaroos and stopping at opportune locations for people to snap a few photos of the marsupials, which are most active in late afternoon and early morning. Kangaroos are friendly creatures, but Anglesea’s website reminds visitors that “they can also be quite aggressive if they feel threatened.”

Post-graduate students and academic staff from Melbourne University’s zoology department have been researching Anglesea’s kangaroo population since 2004, and some of the animals are marked with collar and ear tags so the researchers can track movement, growth, survival, and reproduction patterns throughout their life cycle.

One of the reasons kangaroos have continued to dwell on land so highly trafficked by people is because of the quality of the land itself, National Geographic reports. The golf course staff regularly sprinkles nitrogen fertilizer all over the green, which makes the grass especially healthy.

Kangaroos graze on Anglesea Golf Course
Anglesea Golf Club

If you decide to plan a trip to Anglesea Golf Club, you can book a kangaroo tour here—adult tickets are $8.50, and children under 12 can come along for just $3.50 each.

[h/t Thrillist]

10 Surprising Facts About Shoebill Storks

MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images
MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images

Shoebill storks have been called the world’s most terrifying bird (though the cassowary might disagree). These stately wading birds stalk the marshes of South Sudan, Uganda, and elsewhere in tropical East Africa, snatching up prey with their unique, immediately recognizable bills. But there are a lot of misconceptions about shoebill storks—the first being that they're not actually storks. Here are some more surprising facts.

1. Shoebill storks could win staring contests.

Shoebills live in the vast wetlands of the Nile watershed in eastern Africa. You really can’t mistake them for any other bird: They grow 4 to 5 feet tall, have bluish-gray plumage and an 8-plus-foot wingspan, and their bill, which takes up a majority of their face, looks like a huge Dutch wooden clog. Shoebills can stand virtually motionless for hours with their bills held down against their necks. Complemented by their golden eyes, the posture affects a very convincing death stare.

2. Shoebills may be more closely related to pelicans than storks.

Shoebill stork looking at the camera
ApuuliWorld/iStock via Getty Images

Over the past couple of centuries, naturalists have debated where shoebills should appear on the Tree of Life. Some taxonomists said that the shoebill's syrinx, or vocal organ, resembled those of herons belonging to the family Pelecaniformes, which also includes ibises, pelicans, and boobies. Others countered that herons have specialized feathers than release a powdery down to help with preening, but shoebills didn’t have these feathers, so they must be storks belonging to the family Ciconiiformes. “There is, in fact, not the shadow of a doubt that it is either a heron or a stork; but the question is, which?” zoologist Frank Evers Beddard wrote in 1905. More recent studies on the shoebill's eggshell structure and DNA have supported its place among the Pelecaniformes.

3. Shoebills poop on themselves.

Shoebills practice urohydrosis, the effective—if revolting—habit of defecating on their legs to lower their body temperature. In fact, this characteristic confused taxonomists: In the past, some felt that the shoebill’s habit placed it within the family of true storks, since all true storks also use their own droppings to cool off.

4. European naturalists were introduced to shoebills in the 1840s.

Shoebill stork
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

A German diplomat and explorer named Ferdinand Werne was the first European to hear about the shoebill. On his expedition in Africa to find the source of the White Nile in 1840, Werne camped at Lake No, part of a 12,000-square-mile wetland called the Sudd in what is now South Sudan. Werne’s indigenous guides told him “that they had seen an extraordinary bird, as big as a big camel, with a bill like a pelican’s, though wanting a pouch,” according to a 1908 edition of The Avicultural Magazine.

About 10 years later, a collector named Mansfield Parkyns brought two shoebill skins to England, giving British zoologists their first look at the weird bird. At an 1851 meeting of the British Zoological Society, naturalist John Gould presented a description of the shoebill based on Parkyns’s specimens and gave it the scientific name Balaeniceps rex.

5. Shoebills are also called whale-headed storks.

Balaeniceps rex means “whale-head king,” evidently a reference to its bill shape resembling the head of a baleen whale (as well as a shoe). Other names for the shoebill include the boat-bill, bog-bird, lesser lechwe-eater (referring to the shoebill’s alleged taste for lechwe, or aquatic antelope), and abu markub, or “father of a slipper” in Arabic.

6. Shoebills love lungfish.

Yum, lungfish! These air-breathing, eel-like fish grow to more than 6 feet long and comprise the shoebill’s favorite food. Shoebills also chow down on actual eels, catfish, lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles. To catch their prey, shoebills stand still in the water and wait for an unsuspecting fish to appear. Then, the bird swiftly “collapses” on its target, spreading its wings and diving down bill-first to ambush the fish. Then, with the fish in its mouth, it decapitates it by grinding the sharp edges of its bill together.

7. Shoebills really earned their fierce reputation.

Victorian photographers learned the hard way that shoebills could be as mean as they looked. “The shoebill is capable of inflicting a very powerful bite,” 19th-century zoologist Stanley S. Flower wrote, “and is by no means a safe bird for a stranger ignorant of its ways to approach, a fact which we often have to impress on amateur photographers anxious to obtain ‘snap-shots’ of Balaeniceps at close quarters. It has been amusing to see how rapidly in some cases their enthusiasm has waned, when (as requested) confronted with the great bird screaming shrill defiance and crouching as if were about to spring, with gaping bill and half-spread wings.”

8. Shoebills have always been a rare curiosity at zoos.

Shoebill stork with its mouth open
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

In the 19th century, the Sudanese government made the shoebill a protected species, but that did not stop collectors from attempting to transport shoebills to zoos. Flower, then director of the Zoological Gardens in Giza, Egypt, brought three shoebills (along with four giraffes, nine antelopes, a lion, a leopard, three servals, two ostriches, two porcupines, an aardvark, five tortoises, a crocodile, and several other animals) on a train north from Khartoum to the gardens. The temperature rose to 118°F and the irritated shoebills barfed up their dinners. Their diet of fresh fish that Flower had ordered never materialized, so he resorted to feeding the birds canned shrimp. Miraculously, the birds arrived at the Zoological Gardens in one piece and survived in captivity for at least five years. Today, only a handful of zoos open to the public have shoebills, including the Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic, Pairi Daiza in Belgium, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the Dallas World Aquarium.

9. Shoebills are worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

Shoebills rarely breed in captivity: In the last hundred years at least, only two chicks have hatched. In today’s zoos, all shoebills were either born there or were legally collected from the wild. Unfortunately, their scarcity and mystique have also made shoebills a sought-after bird for poachers in the illegal wildlife trade. According to Audubon magazine, private collectors in Dubai and Saudi Arabia will pay $10,000 or more for a live shoebill.

10. Shoebills are at risk of extinction.

The IUCN Redlist estimates between 3300 and 5300 mature shoebills live in the world today, and that number is decreasing. The iconic birds are threatened by a number of anthropogenic forces, including loss of their marshland habitat from farming, livestock ranching, oil and gas exploration, fires, pollution, and more. International wildlife groups and local conservationists are monitoring shoebill habitats in South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia and patrolling the sites for poaching, but much more attention is needed to protect shoebills.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER