Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 101, Issue 3, pp 403–415 | Cite as

Feeding habits of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico

  • Alexandra C. AinesEmail author
  • John K. Carlson
  • Andre Boustany
  • Alyssa Mathers
  • Nancy E. Kohler


Tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are apex predators that may structure marine communities through predation. Despite a large number of studies in other areas such as the Pacific Ocean, there are no quantitative data on the diet of tiger sharks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Diet was assessed from 169 tiger sharks by life stage, area, and environmental factors. Fifteen prey groups were identified, with teleosts, molluscs, birds, cephalopods, and reptiles being the predominant prey categories. There was an ontogenetic shift in diet, prey size and diversity. Molluscs were the most common prey in smaller sharks, while teleosts and reptiles became more important in the diet of larger sharks. Dietary overlap was significant by area (Gulf of Mexico vs Atlantic Ocean) and among all life stages except for young-of-the-year and adult tiger sharks. Juvenile tiger sharks also demonstrated selective feeding by targeting gastropod feet over ingesting the entire animal. While results were similar to feeding studies conducted on tiger sharks in other ocean basins, an understanding of area-specific trophic interactions is necessary to inform decision support tools for ecosystem-based approaches to management.


Prey diversity · Dietary analysis · Ontogenetic dietary shift · Elasmobranch · Predation · Stomach contents 



We thank the staff of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Panama City Laboratory in Panama City Beach, FL, and the staff of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Narragansett Laboratory in Narragansett, RI. We are especially grateful to M. Enzenauer and all the at-sea observers for collecting stomachs and to A. Kroetz for her help with PRIMER. Partial funding for the project was provided by the Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation. All specimens that were collected as part of commercial fishing activities are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service Federal Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfishes and Sharks. All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


  1. Bell JC, Nichols JT (1921) Notes on the food of Carolina sharks. Copeia 17–20Google Scholar
  2. Bethea DM, Buckel JA, Carlson JK (2004) Foraging ecology of the early life stages of four sympatric shark species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 268:245–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bizzarro JJ, Robinson HJ, Rinewalt CS, Ebert DA (2007) Comparative feeding ecology of four sympatric skate species off Central California, USA. Environ Biol Fish 80:197–220. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Branstetter S, Musick JA, Colvocoresses JA (1987) A comparison of the age and growth of the tiger shark (Galeocerdi cuvieri), from off Virginia and from the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Fish Bull 85:269–279Google Scholar
  5. Carlson JK, Goldman KJ, Lowe CG (2004) Metabolism, energetic demand, and endothermy. Biology of Sharks and Their Relatives 10:269–286. Google Scholar
  6. Castro JI (2010) The sharks of North America. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark E, von Schmidt K (1965) Sharks of the central gulf coast of Florida. Bull Mar Sci 15:13–83Google Scholar
  8. Coles RJ (1919) The large sharks of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, the white shark or maneater, tiger shark and hammerhead. Copeia 34–43Google Scholar
  9. Cortés E (1997) A critical review of methods of studying fish feeding based on analysis of stomach contents: application to elasmobranch fishes. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 54:726–738. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cortés E (1999) Standardized diet compositions and trophic levels of sharks. ICES J Mar Sci 56:707–717. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ebert DA, Fowler SL, Compagno LJ (2013) Sharks of the world: a fully illustrated guide. Wild Nature Press, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  12. Ellis JK, Musick JA (2007) Ontogenetic changes in the diet of the sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus, in lower Chesapeake Bay and Virginia (USA) coastal waters. Environ Biol Fish 80:51–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Enzenauer MP, Deacy BM, Carlson JK (2016) Characterization of the shark bottom longline fishery: 2015. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-689Google Scholar
  14. Estes JA, Tinker MT, Williams TM, Doak DF (1998) Killer Whale Predation on Sea Otters Linking Oceanic and Nearshore Ecosystems. Science 282:473–476. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Ferry LA, Cailliet GM (1996) Sample size and data analysis: Are we characterizing and comparing diet properly? Gutshop:71–80.
  16. Gallagher AJ, Jackson T, Hammerschlag N (2011) Occurrence of tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) scavenging on avian prey and its possible connection to large-scale bird die-offs in the Florida Keys. Florida Sci 74:264–269Google Scholar
  17. Gelsleichter J, Musick JA, Nichols S (1999) Food habits of the smooth dogfish, Mustelus canis, dusky shark, Carcharhinus obscurus, Atlantic sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae, and the sand tiger, Carcharias taurus, from the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Environ Biol Fish 54:205–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gudger EW (1949) Natural history notes on tiger sharks, Galeocerdo tigrinus, caught at Key West, Florida, with emphasis on food and feeding habits. Copeia 1949:39–47. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hammerschlag N, Gallagher AJ, Wester J, Luo J, Ault JS (2012) Don’t bite the hand that feeds: Assessing ecological impacts of provisioning ecotourism on an apex marine predator. Funct Ecol 26:567–576. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Heithaus MR (2001) The biology of tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, in Shark Bay, Western Australia: sex ratio, size distribution, diet, and seasonal changes in catch rates. Environ Biol Fish 61:25–36. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Heithaus MR, Dill LM, Marshall GJ, Buhleier B (2002) Habitat use and foraging behavior of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in a seagrass ecosystem. Mar Biol 140:237–248. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holland KN, Wetherbee BM, Lowe CG, Meyer CG (1999) Movements of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in coastal Hawaiian waters. Mar Biol 134:665–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hyslop EJ (1980) Stomach contents analysis-a review of methods and their application. J Fish Biol 1741:1–429. Google Scholar
  24. Kitchell JF, Boggs CH, He X, Walters CJ (1999) Keystone predators in the central Pacific. Ecosyst approaches Fish Manag 665–683Google Scholar
  25. Kneebone J, Natanson LJ, Andrews AH, Howell WH (2008) Using bomb radiocarbon analyses to validate age and growth estimates for the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the western North Atlantic. Mar Biol 154:423–434. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kohler NE, Casey JG, Turner PA (1998) NMFS cooperative shark tagging program, 1962-93: an atlas of shark tag and recapture data. Mar Fish Rev 60:1–87Google Scholar
  27. Krebs CJ (1989) Ecological Methodology. Harper Row 654.
  28. Lea JSE, Wetherbee BM, Queiroz N, Burnie N, Aming C, Sousa LL, Mucientes GR, Humphries NE, Harvey GM, Sims DW, Shivji MS (2015) Repeated, long-distance migrations by a philopatric predator targeting highly contrasting ecosystems. Sci Rep 5:11202. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Lesueur, CA (1818) Description of several new species of North American fishes (part 1). J Acad Natl Sci Phila 1(2):222–235Google Scholar
  30. Linnaeus, C (1758) Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Laurentius Salvius 1–824.
  31. Lowe CG, Wetherbee BM, Crow GL, Tester AL (1996) Ontogenetic dietary shifts and feeding behavior of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in Hawaiian waters. Environ Biol Fish 47:203–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mearns AJ, Young DR, Olson RJ, Schafer HA (1981) Trophic Structure and the Cesium-Potassium Ratio in Pelagic Ecosystems. CalCOFI Rep 22:99–110Google Scholar
  33. Meyer CG, Papastamatiou YP, Holland KN (2010) A multiple instrument approach to quantifying the movement patterns and habitat use of tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) and Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) at French Frigate Shoals, Hawaii. Mar Biol 157:1857–1868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Morgan AC, Sulikowski JA (2015) The role of Spiny Dogfish in the northeast United States continental shelf ecosystem: how it has changed over time and potential interspecific competition for resources. Fish Res 167:260–277. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morisita M (1959) Measuring of interspecific association and similarity between communities. Mem Fac Sci Kyushu Univ Ser E 3:65–80Google Scholar
  36. Motta PJ, Huber DR (2004) Prey capture behavior and feeding mechanics of elasmobranchs. In: Biology of Sharks and their Relatives. pp 153–209Google Scholar
  37. Murawski SA, Steele JH, Taylor P, Fogarty MJ, Sissenwine MP, Ford M, Suchman C (2009) Why compare marine ecosystems? ICES J Mar Sci 67:1–9. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nichols JT, Murphy RC (1916) Long Island fauna: IV. The sharks. Brooklyn MuseumGoogle Scholar
  39. Péron FA, Lesueur CA (1822) Description of a Squalus, of a very large size, which was taken on the coast of New Jersey. J Acad Natl Sci Phila 2:343–352Google Scholar
  40. Pinkas L (1971) Food habits study. Fish Bull 152:10Google Scholar
  41. Rafinesque, CS (1810) Caratteri di alcuni nuovi generi e nuove specie di animali e piante della sicilia, con varie osservazioni sopra i medisimi. Sanfilippo, PalermoGoogle Scholar
  42. Rancurel P, Intes A (1982) Le requin tigre, Galeocerdo cuvier, Lacepède, des eaux Néo-calédoniennes: examen des contenus stomacaux. Tethys 10:195–199Google Scholar
  43. Roberts JJ, Best BD, Dunn DC, Treml EA, Halpin PN (2010) Marine Geospatial Ecology Tools: An integrated framework for ecological geoprocessing with ArcGIS, Python, R, MATLAB, and C++. Environ Model Softw 25:1197–1207. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Simpfendorfer C (1992) Biology of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) caught by the Queensland shark meshing program off Townsville, Australia. Mar Freshw Res 43:33–43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Simpfendorfer C (2009) Galeocerdo cuvier. In: IUCN Red List Threat. Species 2009. doi:
  46. Simpfendorfer CA, Goodreid AB, Mcauley RB (2001) Size, sex and geographic variation in the diet of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, from Western Australian waters. Mar Freshw Res 61:37–46. Google Scholar
  47. Stevens JD, Bonfil R, Dulvy NK, Walker PA (2000) The effects of fishing on sharks, rays, and chimaeras (chondrichthyans), and the implications for marine ecosystems. ICES J Mar Sci 57:476–494. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wetherbee BM, Cortés E, Bizzarro JJ (2004) Food consumption and feeding habits. In: Biology of Sharks and their Relatives. pp 225–246Google Scholar
  49. Wood AD, Wetherbee BM, Juanes F, Kohler NE, Wilga C (2009) Recalculated diet and daily ration of the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), with a focus on quantifying predation on bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Fish Bull 107:76–88Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra C. Aines
    • 1
    Email author
  • John K. Carlson
    • 2
  • Andre Boustany
    • 1
    • 3
  • Alyssa Mathers
    • 4
  • Nancy E. Kohler
    • 5
  1. 1.Duke University Marine LaboratoryNicholas School of the EnvironmentBeaufortUSA
  2. 2.NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City LaboratoryPanama CityUSA
  3. 3.Monterey Bay AquariumMontereyUSA
  4. 4.Riverside Technology, Inc.Fort CollinsUSA
  5. 5.NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science CenterNarragansettUSA

Personalised recommendations