Sustainable Fishing, Marine Biology & Conservation
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Wednesday
May092012

Sand Tiger

(Carcharias Taurus)

I guess that every family has a member or two that's…well…a little on the homely side, but who ever said that a fish has to be pretty and conform to some kind of sport fishing standard to be considered as an amazing member of the ocean's ecosystem? They're ugly as sin and don't fight much, but sand tiger sharks are actually one of the coolest sharks a fisherman can encounter.

Sand tigers are nearshore sharks that are seldom encountered in the deep waters too far from shore. In the winter months they're found from the Carolinas south, but in the summer they'll extend their range as far north as the Gulf of Main. Sand tigers will congregate (sometimes in large numbers) over and around wrecks, reefs, and shoals that hold an adequate supply of bait and these are the areas where most anglers will encounter them.

The habits, biology, and fierce-look of these sharks makes them ideal for display in large public aquariums. Despite their outward appearance, sand tigers are a relatively docile shark that feeds primarily on small fish, rays, and crustaceans. These sharks are ovoviviparous, so instead of an umbilical cord the developing young are nourished by a yolk sack. The embryos are also "oviphagous" which means they cannibalize their smaller offspring while still inside their mother. Eventually each of the two oviducts contain only one pup which are about three feet long when born.

The fact that sand tigers congregate in large groups and produce only two pups every couple years makes this species very susceptible to being overfished, and that's exactly what happened. By the mid 90's populations of sand tigers had been decimated so badly that in many areas where they were once very common they became virtually non-existent. Government regulations finally put a stop to the slaughter when sand tigers became one of the first sharks to be placed on the Prohibited Species List. Since then their numbers appear to be creeping back up, but do to their very slow reproductive cycle it'll likely take a long time before this can be considered a "recovered" species.Recreational anglers must do their part to help assist the recovery of sand tiger sharks by not engaging them too frequently. They might be ugly slugs, but these fascinating sharks need and deserve all the respect and protection they can get.