Galeocerdo curvier – I of the tiger

This is already the third tiger on picmybug! Following the cute, purring tiger tail seahorse, and the colorful tiger beetle, this one is about the tiger shark. It has been a long time dream to dive with the second biggest predatory shark in the world, and it finally happened in Fuvahmulah, Maldives.

You can find the ‘Description of a Squalus, of a very large size, which was taken on the coast of New Jersey. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 2(ser. 1), 343–352’ online, and same as me, it might trick you first. The very large shark, or squalus as they call it, is not a tiger…

Named is Galeocerdo curvier probably after the French zoologist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, Baron Cuvier. The also French Charles Alexandre Lesueur, together with François Auguste Péron, named the tiger shark ‘Squalus curvier’ in 1822. Péron died of tuberculosis 12 years before the publication.
It took another 15 years to establish the genus Galeocerdo, what is supposed to mean fox shark.

It would have been usual to put an I at the end of the specific epithet, meaning to use the genitive of the word. A typo or just an mistake left us with the nominativ, so instead of Curvier’s fox shark, we have the Curvier fox shark.
Because of it stripes at the side of its body, people use to call it tiger shark. The sharks in the pictures are between 3 and 4m long, but there are Big mamas of probably more than 4m length. All other Galeocerdo species are extinct. There was a list of 21 extinct species, which shrunk to 5 in 2021.

202 years ago live was so incredibly different from today. Nicéphore Niépce is just getting started on the first kind of photography, Morse code and vulcanized rubber are yet to come, and Waterloo is only 7 years ago. So it is no wonder that the original description of the tiger shark is somewhat difficult to read though it is short.
“Description of a Squalus of very large size which was taken off the coast of New Jersey” is the title. Three shark species are described.
First the elephant shark, what is now known as basking shark. It is the by far longest part of that report, and very interesting to read. The exact location for that finding was Brown’s Point, which appears to be just a few kilometers south of New York city. He reports of a shark, displayed by fishermen for the crowd as a Leviathan, or a wonderful sea serpent. So far so good. He describes how that poor animal has been slaughtered with muskets and harpoons from 7pm until the next morning.

He mentioned that the Squalus’ “long appendices”, the claspers, were called the feet of the serpent. He was aware that these appendices are only found in males, and in fact all male sharks and rays have well visible claspers.
What leaves me dazzled is the description of the shark. It was 29 feet and 4 inches long! The foot was only defined in 1958, and is since then 0.3048 meters. That makes the shark 8.9408 meters long. Unfortunately for him this species has been described already, so his name Squalus elephas is nowadays a synonym for Cetorhinus maximus. That’s more than two large tiger sharks, incredible! With measurements a lot of uncertainty comes along. A report of size can be confirmed, or not. Try to guess the length of a car, you might be surprised how difficult that is. See a list of the biggest sharks here:

The second shark Lesueur described was Squalus spallanzani, which is now called Carcharhinus sorrah, the spot tail shark. One day I will see one and write about it.

Only then our tiger shark is described as an inhabitant of the north west coast of New Holland. That took me a moment. The Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman named Australia New Holland in the 17th century. Only 200 years later the British ‘borrowed’ the name Australia from Terra Australis, the southern land. It was a theory, that there must be land far south to balance out all the land in the north. The first confirmed landing on this Terra Australis (now called Antarctica) was in 1895, but people lost faith earlier and spent the name on Australia, the probably most southern land on the planet…

There is a detailed description of the sharks body, mentioning the dark spots and the ‘lunulated emargination on the superior part of the tail’. Nor the size or the sex were mentioned. There’s also no reason stated, why they named it after Curvier.

About the size of sharks:
It is commonly understood that in sharks males are usually smaller than females, and the biggest reported, but unconfirmed, female tiger shark according to was 740cm (Fourmanoir, P. 1961. Requins de la côte ouest de Madagascar. Mem. Inst. Sci. Madagascar. 4(Ser.F): 1-81).
Confirmed is a female of 550cm (Holmes et al. 2012) from Queensland, Australia. The largest confirmed male was 392 cm, and caught in South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal) (Wintner and Dudley 2000).

Fishbase reports a maximal size for tiger sharks of 750cm, with the remark male/unsexed, and a book from Thailand as reference. Fishbase further says the common length is 500cm, again with male/unsexed behind it. The source for that statement is another book: Field Guide to the Commercial Marine Resources of the Gulf of Guinea.

The Great White shark is not much bigger. Confirmed reports are females of just over 600cm, while unconfirmed cases go up to 11 meters, what might lead to the assumption that another basking shark was confused for a Great white…

You see how we difficult size reports of sharks are, the missing i of the tiger is a really small thing on the other hand!