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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of A sand tiger shark.Zoom+ A sand tiger shark. Photo courtesy of Gerald Wilders & Jenkinson's Aquarium.

Sand tiger shark

Carcharias taurus

Species Group: Fish

Conservation Status

State: Other Classification



A large bodied shark growing up to 10 ½ feet and 300 pounds.

One of the most distinctive features of these species is its menacing-looking mouth with many visible, protruding large, slender pointed teeth visible even when the shark’s mouth is closed – the species is sometimes referred to as the ragged-tooth shark. It has a flattened, conical snout and the mouth extends behind the eyes with three rows of large teeth.

The body is robust and muscular with two dorsal fins and anal fin of similar size. It has a high hunched back on a relatively stout body. They are light brown in color, often with darker brownish spots scattered along the body. It has an asymmetrical tail with a shorter lower lobe.

Image of Range of the sand tiger shark in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the sand tiger shark in New Jersey.


This species occurs within all warm and temperate seas around the world with the exception of the eastern Pacific. During the summer, they will migrate toward the poles while moving toward the equator during the fall and winter. They also migrate between nearshore waters during the summer and deeper waters during winter.

Habitat for this species includes the surf zone, shallow bays, coral and rocky reefs, near wreck sites, and at depths as great as 626 feet. They can be found throughout the water column and are often found near the bottom, frequently within underwater caves.

Nursery grounds are littoral, temperate waters, but do not include embayments or low salinity areas. There is some evidence that Delaware Bay may be a nursey area for this species.


This species feeds on bony fish, smaller sharks, rays, squid, crabs and lobsters. They are generally not considered to be dangerous to humans. However, they may bite if approached too closely.


Sexual maturity for males is reached when they are 6 feet in length or 6-7 years of age while females reach sexual maturity at 7 feet in length or 9-10 years of age. They may live up to 17 years.

In North America, mating is thought to occur every other year between late March and April. This species is ovoviviparous (the young develop as unattached embryos within the uterus, with energy supplied by large egg yolks). The gestation lasts approximately 10 ½ months. The average litter size is one or two pups. While still within the uterus, pups engage in intra-uterine cannibalism. So the female often begins her pregnancy with more young than are eventually born.

This species is a slow swimmer generally, more active at night. They are usually solitary but may gather in groups during feeding, courtship, mating, and birth. Air they swallow at the surface is held in the stomach, providing neutral buoyancy, enabling the shark to hover motionless within the water column.


The sand tiger shark is classified by NOAA Fisheries as a Species of Concern throughout its range. Though it has no legal conservation status in New Jersey, it is still illegal to take, possess, land, purchase, or sell them within the state. Sand tigers are critically endangered within some portions of their range and are legally protected in some countries.

Reasons for the species decline include directed fishing and as by-catch. Its low rate of reproduction further hampers its recovery. Habitat degradation in coastal waters and nursery areas may impact juveniles.

Sand tigers are kept in many aquariums and will breed in captivity.

Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2016.


  • Compagno, Leonard, M. Dando and S. Fowler. 2005. Sharks of the World.
  • NatureServe. 2015. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Accessed June 4, 2016 .
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.Accessed June 4, 2016.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Chondrichthyes
          Order: Lamniformes
             Family: Odontaspididae
                Genus: Carcharias
                   Species: C. taurus

Find Related Info: Fish

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