Tiger Shark Attacks

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Tiger shark in shallow water

Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are said to the world’s most dangerous sharks after great white sharks. Tiger sharks are one three species of sharks along with great whites and bull sharks involved in a large number of attacks on humans.

Tiger sharks have been responsible for more recorded attacks on humans than any shark except the great white. Tiger sharks have accounted for 103 non-fatal attacks and 39 fatal attacks for of total of 142 attacks. Between 1876 and 2001, tiger sharks were involved in 83 recorded unprovoked attacks, 29 of them fatal. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Nico Booyens, a marine biologist and director of research at the Shark Research Unit in South Africa, told Live Science. "Different shark species have different hunting techniques, but many sharks are solitary predators that rely on their senses of sight, smell and electroreception to locate their prey. When a shark has located its prey, it will often use its sharp teeth and powerful jaws to bite and tear chunks of flesh from the prey. Some sharks, like the tiger shark, are known for their ability to swallow their prey whole, while others, like the bull shark [Carcharhinus leucas], will attack and bite their prey repeatedly until it is weakened or immobilized." [Source: Lydia Smith, Live Science, May 10, 2023]

Tiger sharks are known as the “garbage cans” of the ocean because they will swallow anything and everything they find. Many non-edible items, such as car license plates, oil cans, tires, and baseballs, have all been found in the stomachs of tiger sharks. Sometimes human remains found in the stomachs of tiger sharks are the result not of an attack but a shark feeding on a body that was already dead. In June 2001, the head and bones found in the stomach of a tiger shark off Australia's coast were identified as belonging to 75-year-old Arthur Apple. See Below

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation shark.swiss ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks ; Tracking Sharks trackingsharks.com, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW) animaldiversity.org; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noaa.gov; Fishbase fishbase.se ; Encyclopedia of Life eol.org ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ocean.si.edu/ocean-life-ecosystems

Tiger Shark Victims

Tiger shark range
In 1996, several people were killed in a spate of attacks by tiger sharks near Madang. A single tiger shark in Madang Harbour, Papua New Guinea attacked three people in a single day killing two. Nine nine days later it attacked and killed another person

In October 2014, a group of Philippines fishermen said they found a partially digested human head and a leg inside the belly of a massive tiger shark. UPI reported: Bodoy Gorgod, 48, said he and four others were fishing between Bohol and Camiguin islands when they reeled in the large tiger shark, which Gorgood estimated weighed more than 650 pounds. The fisherman and his colleagues opened up the shark and found a partially digested human head and a human leg. "It was so disgusting. We can't bear the awful smell," Gorgood told Minda News. Gorgood said the group decided to keep the shark's jaws and fins and they threw the rest, including the human remains, back into the water so as not to incur "bad luck." Some locals speculated the remains could have been from one of the missing passengers from the M/V Maharlika 2 ferry, which sank Sept. 13 in rough waters brought about by a tropical storm. The vessel was carrying a total of 84 people when it went down off Southern Leyte. Two male passengers remain missing. [Source: Ben Hooper, UPI, November 11, 2014]

In the mid 2010s, a 15-year old male kitesurfer in New Caledonia lost his board and was pulled by the sail along the water surface in a reef passage when a shark attacked. The shark inflicted at least two bites on the left leg, including a severe one around the knee, resulting in a quick hypovolemic shock that was fatal. The analysis of one of these bites indicated that a 2.8 meter tiger shark was responsible for this attack. The features of the attack are consistent with those of a predator response to a surface feeding stimulus. [Source: “Fatal attack by a juvenile tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, on a kitesurfer in New Caledonia (South Pacific)” by Eric Clua, Pierre-Marie Bescond, Dennis Reid, PMID: May 5, 2014]

In November 1998, a 9-year-old boy was killed by a six-foot (1.8-meter) tiger shark as he swam in the ocean, the first such attack in Florida in 10 years. James Willie Tellasmon was with his mother when he was attacked near Ocean Beach at Jaycee Park, some 70 miles north of West Palm Beach along Florida's east coast. “Witnesses said he started to flail, and then he was gone,'' police chief Jim Gabbard said. “He just went under.'' The boy was flailing to stay afloat in fairly deep water, which probably attracted the shark, shark expert George Burgess said.

Tiger Shark Attacks in Australia

On November 22, 2020, 59-year-old Charles Cernobori was killed by a four-meters (13-foot) suspected tiger shark while bodyboarding two kilometers north of the main tourist section of Cable Beach, West Australia. He worked at a Cable Beach hotel and was familiar with the seas in the area. On November 22, 2020, on Cable Beach, West Australia, Charles Cernobori, 59, who worked at a Cable Beach hotel was killed by a four- meter suspected tiger shark while bodyboarding two kilometers north of the main tourist section. [Source: Lauren Ferri, Daily Mail Australia, December 12, 2020]

Tiger sharks are more likely in Queensland waters as they will attack in warmer waters.In December 2004, a man was killed by what was thought to be a tiger shark of bronze whaler while spearfishing at Opal Reef on the Great Barrier Reef near the Yorkeys Knob area, north of Cairns. The Lancashire Telegraph reported: Mark Thompson, 38, suffered massive blood loss, caused by deep leg wounds, and a cardiac arrest after being attacked by the shark off the Queensland coast. A police spokesman said he was around 15metres from the boat when the shark, believed to be a tiger shark, attacked. Friends dragged him out of the water but he died soon afterwards. His body was taken back to shore by a rescue helicopter scrambled to the scene. [Source: Lancashire Telegraph, December 17, 2004]

Friend Michael Sims said he had introduced Mr Thompson to spearfishing - which involves fishermen entering the water and using small harpoon-like instruments to catch big fish. "He had only just come back from one trip away. He used to go out heaps. "He loved spearfishing and took to it right away." Les Marsh, owner of a charter fishing company based in the area, said: "Mark regularly went spearfishing on that reef. Everybody is so upset by what happened."

Human Head Found in Tiger Shark Caught by Fishermen

In June 2001, fishermen discovered a human head inside a two-meter tiger shark caught off Australia's east coast. AFP reported: The shark also appeared to have swallowed an arm or a leg, police said in a statement. Fishermen made the grisly discovery when they were gutting a huge tiger shark they caught near Lord Howe Island, about 700 kilometers southeast of Brisbane, It is not clear whether the victim was dead or alive when eaten by the shark. [Source: AFP, June 10, 2001]

Robert Van Lawick, one of the four members of a game fishing club who caught the shark, said, "You don't expect to get a human body...We've talked about it - you know, what if - but you don't really expect it." A similar case was recorded in 1936 when a Tiger shark caught and moved to an aquarium in Sydney regurgitated a human arm found to be that of a murder victim.

The human head and bone found in the tiger shark described above was identified as belonging to an elderly man. Ananova reported: Police say the remains are those of Arthur Applet, 75. He was last seen walking along Middle Beach on Lord Howe Island. Scott Wilson and Mark Thompson caught the four-meter (12 foot) long shark off the island and discovered the remains when they sliced it open. Police had earlier said the body parts may also have belonged to Ross Symens, who also went missing close to where the shark was caught. They would not speculate as to how Mr Applet ended up in the shark's stomach. [Source: Ananova, June 13, 2001]

Three Tiger Sharks Killed after Attacks in Australia

In September 2018, Australian authorities caught and killed three tiger sharks after a woman and a young girl sustained life-threatening injuries in the popular Whitsunday region near the Great Barrier Reef. The victims were tourists. DW reported: The biggest of the predators was 3.3 meters (10.8 feet) long, with the other two measuring 2.6 and 2 meters from nose to tail. "While sharks of this size are potentially very dangerous to humans, it is unclear if they were responsible for injuries caused to two swimmers this week," Fisheries Queensland said in a statement. [Source: DW, September 22, 2018]

The authorities started the shark hunt after a 46-year-old woman was mauled by a shark on and a 12-year-old girl was attacked within 24 hours outside Cid Harbour. Both of the victims were Australian citizens visiting the area on the country's northeast coast. They sustained leg wounds and doctors described their condition as critical but stable.

The manager of Queensland Fisheries' shark control program, Jeff Krause, told Australia's ABC that the officials would measure the dead sharks' jaws to match them with the wounds on the two victims. "We're only wanting to remove — not all sharks, it's not a cull — but we need to remove a few sharks out of that area," Krause said.

The officials captured the fish by using drum lines they had placed near Cid Harbour. The shark fishing device consists of a line attached to the sea floor, a floating drum and a baited, hooked line. Newer models are also equipped with a GPS device that sends out a signal when a shark pulls on the hook.

Queensland Fisheries Minister Mark Furner said the drum lines would stay in place until "the area is secure from any further attacks." "I hope for God's sake that people adhere to our advice to stay out of the water," he told the Weekend Australian newspaper.Environmental activists, however, have already criticized the government for using drum lines, saying they will "indiscriminately catch and kill marine life while potentially attracting sharks to the area." "We urge the Queensland Government to seriously consider more effective non-lethal measures to protect ocean users," the Humane Society International said in a statement.

Tiger Shark Attacks Surfers on Reunion Island and Recife, Brazil

In September 2000, a surfer survived a sustained and frenzied attack by a three meter-long (12 feet) tiger shark in the sea off the Indian Ocean island of Reunion and said the beast came so close "I could have kissed it." According to press reports on Karim Maan, 27, needed about twenty stitches to a wound to his arm after the attack, which took place at a surfing spot known as the Pic du Diable, near the town of Saint Pierre. [Source: AFP, September 11, 2000]

In 2021, a shark attacked and killed a drunk man in at Piedade Beach, Jaboatao dos Guararapes — near Boa Vigem — who stepped into the ocean to relieve himself. Global News reported: The incident happened around 2 p.m. Saturday. Marcelo Rocha Santos, 51, had been drinking there with a friend when he felt the need to urinate, so he waded out into the water to do so. Ademir Sebastiao da Silva, who was also at the beach, says he went out with Santos to relieve himself at the same time. “As the beach has no bathroom, I went into the sea to pee,” he said. “I was beside him with the water up to our waists.” The species involved is a tiger shark,” Jonas Rodrigues, a researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, told Globo News. Rodrigues says the bite marks indicate that the tiger shark was roughly 2.6 metres long. A dozen previous attacks have been reported at the beach where Santos was killed, according to state data. [Source: Josh K. Elliott Global News, July 15, 2021]

Tiger Shark Attacks in Hawaii

In August 2018, stand-up paddleboarder was hospitalized after a 3½ meter (12-foot) -long tiger shark bit off part of his leg and injured his arm off of Kukio Beach in Hawaii’s Big Island. In September 2015, 27-year-old Braxton Rocha was attacked by a 13-foot tiger shark while spearfishing off Hawaii's Big Island. He then posted a graphic video to Instagram showing the shark-inflicted damage to his left leg (a large gash, several inches deep).

Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: In 2016 a man was “attacked by a tiger shark that was so relentless that the man was able to escape only by pulling out the shark’s eyeball. The man’s feet were mangled, and one foot had to be amputated. (His name is Tony Lee, and I spoke to him a month after the attack. He says he doesn’t think he actually pulled out the whole eyeball, he likely just ruptured it, but it was certainly what made the shark let go. The punch-the-shark-in-the-nose defense? All that got Lee was a fistful of bloody knuckles.) [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, June 2016]

In October 2013, Jeff Horton, 25, fought off a tiger shark when the animal narrowly missed his leg and took a bite out of his surfboard off the coast of Kauai, "The only thing is either fight or flight," he told CBS News. "Like I didn't want to die. So, I just gave everything I had and started punching the shark as much as I could." Horton eventually managed to jam a knuckle into the shark's eye and was able to retreat to safety.

In October 1999, a 16-year-old surfer was attacked by a 10-foot tiger shark near Kona. The shark came halfway out of the water and pushed him off his board and clamped on to his arm. " I could almost see the whole shark. My elbow was down his throat, the surfer said. The shark ripped muscles, tendons and blood vessels than bit the board and swam way. The surfer kept his arm but lost his ability to grip.

In August 1999, a 53-year-old visitor from France was severely bitten at 11:00am on the lower left leg by a tiger shark while windsurfing in waters seven miles off Kanaha on Maui. In August 2002, a 16-year-old boy was bitten on the left foot by a 10-foot-long tiger shark while surfing near Kewalo's harbor channel.

In 1992, two people were killed by tiger sharks in Hawaiian waters: An 18-year-old body surfer who bleed to death from wounds on the beach off Oahu, and a woman snorkeler who died after having an arm and both legs bitten off. In addition, a surfer disappeared but his board was found with a chunk bitten off. A surfer who was attacked around the same time by a 10-foot tiger shark and had a big chunk taken out of his board told reporters, "I remember distinctly seeing the eye just below the water level and the big round snout. [It] was trying to swallow the piece, and I remember looking...into the soft white part of the mouth."

Snorkeler Attacked by Three-Meter Tiger Shark Off Hawaii’s Big Island

A tourist from Kansas suffered severe lacerations on his left forearm after being attacked by a 10- to 12-foot tiger shark at the Hapuna Beach in Hawaii. Tech Times reported: The incident occurred at just before noon. The 58-year-old man, who suffered a bite wound on his left forearm, was first taken to the North Hawaii Community Hospital before being transported to The Queen's Medical Center in Oahu. [Source: Aaron Mamiit, Tech Times, March 19, 2015]

“Beaches in Waialea to Mauna Kea were closed, with the tiger shark still continuing to cruise along the surf line at the Hapuna Beach even after an hour had passed since the attack. A helicopter from the Hawaii County Fire Department tracked down the shark and saw stripes on the animal's body, confirming that it was a tiger shark.

“There were several snorkelers in the water around 20 meters out from the southern part of the beach when the shark launched its attack. The injured man, who was snorkeling with his family at the time, was dragged out of the water by several bystanders. "There was commotion in the water and we responded. Initially we didn't know what happened," said Paul Tucker, a lifeguard at the Hapuna Beach. "Then we saw bystanders dragging him in." "He punched the shark, causing it to retreat," said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“The lifeguards helped the injured man to the shore and placed a tourniquet on his arm as they waited for the arrival of emergency services. According to authorities, in addition to the severe lacerations that the man suffered on his left forearm, he also received lacerations on his left thigh.

“In 2014, scientists tagged several tiger sharks in the area surrounding Hawaii to try to determine just how close the animals came to populated beaches. The effort was spurred by several attacks that were blamed on tiger sharks, with six such attacks occurring in 2013. The researchers found out that, while the tiger sharks swim out into the open ocean, the animals frequently visit waters at depths of less than 600 feet in regions around Maui. Locations where tiger sharks are most often seen correlated with popular beaches in Maui.

Near Miss with a Tiger Shark in Hawaii

September 1999, Rick Reeder was in the water between Lanai and Maui in Hawaii, finishing a relay leg in the nine-mile Maui Channel Swim this month unaware that a tiger shark was closing in fast on him. Reeder was 25 yards from the escort boat when the boat's captain saw the shark moving toward Reeder, about 75 yards behind. The captain ordered the boat put in reverse and Reeder's teammates from the Irvine Novaquatics Masters Team started waving at the swimmer. Reeder was still unaware. [Source: Martin Beck, Los Angeles Times]

"I saw them waving their arms and my first thought was that they're waving to encourage me," Reeder said this week. "When I got close, I lifted my head up and I heard someone yell, 'Get in the boat now, shark.' I put my face back down in the water and started to swim to the boat as fast as I could." Reeder, didn't have much time to think. "It did cross my mind," he said, "that I hope he investigates me before he eats me." The shark--at an estimated 15 feet, more than twice as long as the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Reeder--caught up fast; Reeder reached the boat with little time to spare. "We all grabbed for Rick, his legs and arms and everything," said Novaquatics team captain Scott Zornig, "and just as we pulled his feet out of the water, the shark made a beeline for him and probably came within five feet of him."

The shark continued to circle the boat for about 15 minutes. The Novaquatics tried by radio to warn the other 57 boats in the race about the aggressive shark, but many boats had their radios turned off, Zornig said, so the warnings went unheeded. They decided to pull out of the race and warn other teams in person. Fifteen boats pulled their swimmers out of the water, including one woman who saw the shark pass under her.

Woman Bitten Twice by Tiger Shark at Maui

In October 2000, as he watched Henrietta Musselwhite swim out to her favorite snorkeling spot off Camp Pecusa off Olowalu longtime kayaker Ron Bass started to get "real strong shark vibes." Minutes later, Bass heard a scream and turned around to see his vibes had become all too real. "It was this big gray thing, coming up out of the water," said Bass."I saw it go up three times and come back down with a big thrashing. It was a shark. And the woman was yelling." [Source: Valerie Nonson, Honolulu Star-Bulletin]

After the attack occurred Bass immediately began paddling for the victim, even though he didn't know if the shark would attack him, as well. Right behind him was the woman's daughter. Bass was the first to reach Musselwhite, who managed to pull herself onto the back of his vessel. "I told her daughter to follow us and if the shark came back, to whomp it on the head or something," said Bass.

Bass immediately responded, pulled the woman to shore and began treating wounds from two bites one on her lower back above her right hip and what appeared to be a puncture from a tooth in her thigh. "She'd lost a lot of blood," said Bass. "She was hyperventilating and we had to calm her down." From descriptions provided by Bass and the victim, officials believed the attack was caused by a tiger shark between 6 and 8 feet long. The incident, which occurred less than a mile from where a Maui woman was killed by a shark in 1991.

The incident is the second attack reported in three months around Maui, along with several reports of sharks sighted near popular swimming areas. In August, a French windsurfer was attacked by a shark off Kanaha Beach Park, suffering severe lacerations to a foot.

Tiger Shark Attacks Bethany Hamilton

In November 2003,Bethany Hamilton, a 13-year-old surfer with a promising career ahead of her, was attacked by a 12- to 15-foot tiger shark while surfing with some friends near her home in Kauai. While shouting “A shark bit me,” the predator took off her arm above the elbow and swam away. A fellow surfer wrapped her wound with a T-shirt, swam her to shore, quickly fashioned a tourniquet from a surfboard leash to slow the bleeding and took her to a nearby hospital. Had the tourniquet not been applied she probably would have bled to death.

The shark took an 16-by-8-inch bite out of Hamilton’s surfboard. Hamilton was the only one who saw the shark and she was conscious through the whole ordeal. She told a local televison station the shark pulled her around “but I just held on to my board and then it let go.” Four inches of bone was left below her shoulder.

As she did most mornings, Hamilton was surfing with her best friend and fellow competitor, Alana Blanchard, as well as Alana's father, Holt, and brother, Byron. About six other surfers were also in the lineup. At about 7:30 a.m. the shark attacked Hamilton at a surf spot known as Tunnels, at Makua Beach on Kauai's North Shore. [Source: Brandon Lee, Honolulu the Star-Bulletin]

"Nobody saw the shark," said Hamilton’s 21-year-old brother, Noah. "It was a small day at Tunnels, with clear water, and she paddled over to her friends after the attack, with just one arm...She never cried once. Losing her arm will change a lot for her, but she never cried once. The doctor was amazed at how well she is holding up. She told one of her friends that she's glad this happened to her, 'because now I can tell the whole world about God.'"

Hamilton had, up to this point, been home-schooled so she could surf regularly. A long and lean, goofy-footed (right foot forward) surfer, she was the second-ranked surfer from the Hawaii region. In the previous season's national championships at San Clemente, Calif., she took the runner-up spot in the open women's division and fifth place in the explorer women's. Hamilton is also a former state champion.

Hamilton has been the subject of a number of print and television pieces and has received several awards for her inspiring story. Her autobiography “Soul Surfer” was released in 2004. The film version, with Carrie Underwood and Helen Hunt, is scheduled for release in 2011. Hamilton has also launched her own line of perfume, self-help books and accessories.

Reasons for Tiger Shark Attacks in Hawaii and How People There Deal with It

Carl Meyer at the University of Hawaii and his team have tagged hundreds of tiger sharks with satellite tags and acoustic tracking devices. He told National Geographic he doesn’t know why attacks in Hawaii have spiked in recent years, jumping from an average of fewer than four a year from 2000 to 2011 to almost 10 a year from 2012 to 2015. But he says he would expect to see a long-term rise in attacks because of the increasing number of people in Hawaii’s waters.[Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, June 2016]

Hodges wrote: “As for why attacks occur mostly in the fall, he points out that’s when tiger sharks come to the main islands to give birth. Female tiger sharks make a huge energy investment when they ovulate. Their eggs are “enormous” — the size of baseballs — and they can have as many as 80 pups in a litter. What that might mean — although it’s a “completely untested hypothesis,” he cautions — is that pregnant sharks get to the islands hungry, and this makes them even more indiscriminate eaters than usual. But the uptick in attacks in the fall, a pattern noticed by native Hawaiians for generations (surfers call it Sharktober), might also be a function of having more sharks around the islands at that time of year. Besides Hawaii’s growing human population, another possible factor is a proliferation of sea turtles. Green sea turtles received federal protection in 1978, after decades of intense exploitation. Their numbers have been increasing ever since. They’re now common off Hawaii’s shores and are a familiar food for tiger sharks.

For a different perspective on tiger sharks, “I spent a couple of days on Kauai with Mike Coots, a photographer who lost half his right leg to a tiger shark while bodyboarding in 1997, when he was 18. He was soon back in the water and says he almost never thinks about sharks when he’s surfing. “Hawaii is an ocean culture,” he told me. “People here are in the water from the time they’re in diapers. They’re just not that afraid of sharks.” To test that, I asked the boys playing four square in front of his house whether they were afraid of sharks, and they said, “No,” like it was the stupidest question they’d ever heard. They were about the age I was when I saw Jaws.

Tiger Shark Attack in South Africa

In November 2004, a fatal shark attack near a popular South African diving resort was linked to spear fishing, an activity that can draw unwanted attention from sharks. Police originally said Sheldon Jee, a 21-year-old dive instructor, was presumed to have fallen victim to a shark while scuba diving off Sodwana Bay on South Africa's northeast coast. His severed left hand was all that was found. [Source: Ed Stoddard, Reuters]

But his diving school said Jee had been spear fishing at the time. They think he was attacked by a 13-foot tiger shark far from the dive sites of Sodwana, famed for stunning coral formations and tropical fish. The fact that he was spear fishing at the time will come as a relief of sorts for the thousands of scuba divers who will descend on Sodwana as sharks almost never attack divers. "Scuba divers usually don't get attacked. The shark recognizes them as non-food because of their odd shape such as the tank. The bubbles may also bother them," said Phil Heemstra, a marine biologist with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

Spear fishing is a different matter: "Spear fishermen sometimes pass out from holding their breath, and he may have blacked out and then been taken by a shark. "They (sharks) also pick up the vibrations and blood from the speared fish and that gets them excited and puts them in feeding mode," Heemstra said. Debby Oscroft, who works for Jee's diving school Coral Divers, said: "Sheldon was spear fishing when he went missing and he was in deep water hundreds of meters out from the reefs where people scuba dive. "The divers who searched for him Thursday came across a four-meter tiger shark in the area where he went missing. It was so big that a search plane also saw it from the air," she told Reuters.

Image Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mostly National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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