Killer Facts: Tiger Sharks vs. Great White Sharks
Most of us will agree that there is one movie that caused us to never look at water the same again. Whether we are planning to jump into the ocean or across a small puddle, Jaws impacted us in such a way that we will forever give side-eye to even the smallest gathering of water drops. The soundtrack still haunts us.
We cannot blame it all on the great white shark. The great white is only one of three apex predators of our oceans, it just happens to be the one that got more screen time. With four full-length feature films, the great white shark summons visions of tourists on the beach unaware of the beast lurking just past the breaking waves, waiting for swimmers to become snacks.
To be fair, we also could blame our fear on the megalodon, unrealistically featured in The Meg, if it had not been extinct for millions of years.
When it comes to tiger sharks versus great white sharks, there may be too many myths and movies preventing us from appreciating their power and beauty. Exploring the differences between these great monsters of the deep can help us better respect the species and its power and beauty.
When comparing a tiger shark versus a great white shark, key differences will surprise you. Here are some killer facts about the two top predators of the world’s oceans.
Where Tiger Sharks and Great White Sharks Roam
While our jaded minds might conjure up sharks in every body of water, the tiger shark and the great white shark have their preferences. The tiger shark prefers tropical, temperate waters and remains close to the coast to enjoy hunting in warmer currents. The tiger shark is common among the sharks of Hawaii, enjoying the deep waters that line the reefs.
The great white commands the coastal and surface waters of all the major oceans. Preferring cooler waters between 54 and 75 degrees, the great white is consistently found in a few places across the world. In the eastern Pacific, they are found from the Baja Peninsula to the Gulf of Alaska.
Great Whites Favorite Cool Coastal Waters
- Channel Islands off California Coast
- Mexico’s Guadalupe Island
- South Australia
- South Africa
The lifetime travel of a tiger shark versus a great white shark could be similar. It is thought these sharks can travel up to twelve thousand miles in a year. The tiger shark has a life span of twenty-seven to fifty years and the great white seventy years or more, so the lifetime of miles can be substantial.
Pregnant tiger sharks of Hawaii migrate from the northwestern islands to the main islands from September through November. Not a long trip, but proof that travel is important to the species.
Tiger Sharks versus Great White Sharks: The Details
These apex predators are at the top of the food chain for a good reason. Their power and strength are due to their size and build. When looking at the tiger shark versus the great white shark, the contrasts are striking. Despite their inarguable differences, the result is the same: fierce beauty.
The tiger shark can reach an impressive length of eighteen feet but averages ten to fourteen feet. With a sleeker build, the tiger shark is an agile predator at two thousand pounds. The maximum size of the tiger sharks of Hawaii remains uncertain as they have been recorded as growing twice as fast as some previously thought.
You Can Tell a Tiger by Its Stripes
The tiger shark has distinctive stripping on its sides, giving it the tiger distinction. The underside of a tiger shark is white or pale. The tiger bars are distinctive on the juvenile but fade with age.
Two more key attributes of the tiger shark that contribute to its ferocity are its longer top tail fin and square head shape. The longer tail fin provides strength and power in quick bursts. The blunt, square head has eyes on the corners and large flared nostrils.
The Great White Shark Proves Size Matters
The great white is a larger-bodied fish, while the tiger shark is all tail. Commonly measured at sixteen feet, it is not unusual to find a great white as large as twenty feet. When weighing the tiger shark versus the great white shark, the great white will weigh consistently higher due to its build, though neither can be accused of being skinny.
Great whites are consistently dark gray with a white underbelly. Their even fin tails provide great power in chasing prey, and their relatively small head has a short, pointed nose with their eyes and nostrils set back towards their mouth. Do not let the size fool you—the great white is all about power and speed!
Some of the largest tiger sharks and great white sharks join the forty-one other species of sharks of Hawaii. These two species grow over twenty feet consistently in the waters off the islands. Smaller reef sharks make up most of the sharks of Hawaii, but it is wise not to engage with them either!
Tiger Sharks versus Great White Sharks: What is on the Menu
Tiger sharks are known to enjoy the widest food spectrum of all sharks. A solitary hunter that mostly hunts at night, the tiger shark eats crustaceans, squid, birds, turtles, dolphins, and other sharks. As an apex predator, a tiger shark eats whatever they like.
These sharks of Hawaii feast on anything found in their territory, including horses, goats, sheep, dogs, and rats. These aggressive and indiscriminate hunters are also known to eat garbage. One shark of Hawaii was found with an entire chicken coop in its stomach!
Indiscriminate Snacking of Great White Sharks
- license plates
The great white also has a wide range of food preferences. While often thought of as a lone hunter, great whites have been known to hunt in groups and share the spoils. Researchers have also been surprised at the ability of the great white to learn, cooperate with others, and change hunting tactics. A few favorites of the great white include:
Humans are Not on the Menu
- other sharks
- sea lions
- sea turtles
- sea otters
- sea birds
When comparing the tiger shark versus the great white shark, neither have a fear of predators except one: the killer whale. Due to its size and intelligence, an orca can hunt and kill both the tiger shark and the great white. Studies have shown both will avoid an area where killer whales are hunting.
Fortunately for these sharks of Hawaii, orcas are rarely seen in the waters off the islands. While sightings have been reported, it is more common for orca to remain in cooler waters and avoid fraternizing with the more native sharks of Hawaii. Your chances of seeing orca even migrate through Hawaii are basically on par with seeing the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. It could happen, but not really believable.
How These Sharks Hunt
The tiger shark and the great white shark have a softer, gentler side when searching for snacks. In their tamer moments, they feast on mollusks, squid, and crustaceans. But the ferociously fun thrill of the chase keeps them hunting tuna, mackerel, and other sharks. The good news? They really do not like the taste of humans.
Tiger Sharks: Experts in Camouflage and Sneak Attacks
The tiger shark is a skillful hunter. Known as a night ninja, the tiger shark uses its countershading and coloring to blend in the darkness below its prey. Employing its excellent eyesight and sense of smell, the tiger shark flicks its long upper tail fin to create a burst of power and pounce at an incredible speed.
The tiger shark typically meanders through the water at a slow pace, but it can reach a speed of twenty miles per hour very quickly. The casual pace allows the tiger shark to swim along, blending into its surroundings until an animal of interest comes near. A stealthy predator, the tiger shark prefers the deeper waters until it is time to feed.
Great White Sharks: Stealthy and Powerful Force from Below
The great white is stealthy, powerful, and dominant. Using its speed and bulk, a great white can hunt its prey from below. It will project itself up in a burst of speed, bumping its prey and even breaching the surface of the water to catch faster-moving prey. Its highly refined senses and tornado-shaped body make this predator a deadly force to encounter.
A great white shark hunts its prey at the surface of the water while swimming below. These sharks have taste buds inside their mouth and throat that enable them to identify their food before swallowing it. The great white shark is very opportunistic, using all its senses to find, hunt, and kill its prey.
The Difference is in the Bite: Teeth
The great white shark can lose thousands of teeth in a lifetime as it has up to three thousand teeth at any given time. The tiger shark’s blunt mouth houses rows of teeth that have just one purpose – to rip and tear its prey. The teeth of the tiger shark versus the great white shark are smaller but just as mighty.
The teeth of a tiger shark are serrated and sharp. They are short, deeply-notched blades of about one to one-and-a-half inches long. They are as broad at the root as a great white’s but notably better for hard-surfaced prey, with an unmistakable sideways-pointing tip.
The great white has thousands of broad, flat, triangle-shaped teeth. They have coarse serrations and are typically one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half inches. While the teeth of both the tiger shark and the great white are daunting, the teeth of the legendary megalodon average three-and-a-half to seven inches!
A less scary shark-related activity is to hunt for shark teeth at the beach. The best beach in Hawaii to search for these fossils is Shipwreck Beach Lanai. There are not many people there, and you can search for shark teeth to your heart’s content. Nothing to fear here!
Who Would Win: Tiger Shark versus the Great White Shark
The tiger shark and the great white shark share one common predator – the killer whale. While tiger sharks successfully hunt juvenile great white sharks, it is unlikely a match between the tiger shark versus the great white shark would end favorably for the tiger shark. Research tells us that the dominant predator will be the great white every time.
But you may not want to picture the tiger shark versus the great white shark, circling the waters of the world, looking for a fight. They prefer different climates, are both dominant predators, and these sharks do not like putting in a lot of effort for a meal. Additionally, they only attack when they are hungry, so there are a few specific situations in which this epic battle would ever be realized.
Beware of Tiger Sharks
The beauty and power of these creatures are overshadowed by the numerous reports of their misadventures over the years. Not wholly innocent, the tiger shark has been responsible for more incidents around the islands than most sharks of Hawaii. Known to be territorial, they are the top coastal feeder and will attack anything in their space.
Selachophobia is the unreasonable fear of sharks (but is it really unreasonable?), and many of us have it to some degree. Whether it is due to Jaws, news reports, or just a healthy fear of animals larger than you that swim in the water, sharks are beautiful creatures to be admired and respected – at a distance.
Finding the Beauty in the Beast
The beauty and elegance of these iconic creatures can be appreciated in fossils left behind from their decades surveilling the waters of our planet. The tooth of a tiger shark, a great white shark, and even a megalodon can inspire the admiration of others as a species that has been mythologized as one of our greatest predators. Each tooth tells a story, and the story becomes yours.
When you find a quality purveyor of fascinating and stunning oceanic artifacts, you will find many pieces for your collection - and your new obsession! - that you just cannot live without. As you choose the specific teeth that are meant for you and see your collection growing, the only thing you will remember about Jaws is, “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”