Tiger sharks are named for the dark vertical stripes they have when they are young that generally lighten as they reach adulthood. They have a reputation for being dangerous and aggressive; per National Geographic, they are second only to great white sharks when it comes to attacking human beings. As reported by the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File, from 1580 to the present, tiger sharks have been implicated in 131 confirmed, unprovoked attacks, 34 of them fatal. They tend to be between 10 and 14 feet long and are excellent hunters with great senses of sight and smell, very sharp, serrated teeth, and strong jaws capable of crushing the shells of sea turtles.
Despite all of these terrifying facts, marine biologist Kori Garza told Good Morning America that she gets a “serene feeling” when she’s swimming in the ocean with what she called “big beautiful predators.” Perhaps the tiger shark she encountered in November of 2018 could sense her comfort and ease when it decided to make its presence known to her and her team as they were diving in the Pacific Ocean at a shark sanctuary in French Polynesia. “We all just paused, jaws dropped and were like, ‘Now that’s a shark,'” Garza told Good Morning America. “It was so much bigger than what you would expect anything in the water to naturally be coming towards you.” Garza and her team got about an hour with the shark and were unable to tag it as that would have required capturing it, which has been banned since 2006.
Tiger sharks can be hard to study because they move so fast
Kori Garza and her team estimate that the tiger shark they spotted, whom they named Kamakai, was about 18 feet long—longer than the boat they used to get to the diving location. The previous tiger shark size record was, according to Good Morning America, about 15 feet. Garza told the program “Her mouth couldn’t even close she was so big and she couldn’t really move her fins. They were kind of stuck in this position and she was slowly swimming around. Much rounder than normal, but very calm and comfortable — wasn’t aggressive or territorial.” Per inews, Garza grew up far from the sea in Missouri but moved to Hawaii to study marine biology after being inspired by the movie “Jaws,” naturalist and television personality Steve Irwin, and nature documentaries, and went on to become a tiger shark expert.
She teamed up with cinematographer Andy Casagrande to make the National Geographic documentary “World’s Biggest Tiger Shark?” The documentary seeks to discover why sharks living in the South Pacific are growing bigger and bigger with each passing year. As sharks can swim up to 60 miles in one day, they can be hard to track, and little research has been done on the sharks in the area. Garza noted “Of course, the fishermen have been in these spots forever, but it’s a totally different perspective on the boat. It’s really cool to be the first to go into the water and see them from their level.”
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