Shark Week (July 24) and International Tiger Day (July 29) are both approaching. In celebration of these events, I thought I'd compare the two apex predators to see which one comes out on top.
A typical male great white shark is about 13 feet long; a female is about 21 feet. The world's largest shark is the whale shark, which can grow up to 60 feet in length. All these sharks weigh well over a ton.
Compare that to the largest tiger, the Siberian (or amur) tiger, which tops out at 10 feet and 650 pounds. Sure, they're big. Bigger than a human. But nothing compared to sharks.
The fastest a tiger can run -- in short bursts -- is about 40 mph. While that may be enough to outpace a great white shark (as Michael Phelps recently showed us), once again, water provides an advantage. Its buoyancy, and a streamlined body, allow a shortfin mako shark to swim up to 60 mph. Both predators move much faster than a human can run or swim.
You bite into a steak with a force of about 200 pounds per square inch. Tigers have a bite force of about 1,000 psi. That's been directly measured. It seems no one has had the luck, opportunity, or bravery to test a great white shark's bite, but computer models based on skulls and jawbones estimate it to be 3,600 psi. No matter what, a bite from either creature would be bad news for your bones and organs.
This is hard to measure objectively, but we had to throw a bone (as it were) to the tigers. While baby sharks are definitely cute, it's hard to compete with the immense adorableness of tiger cubs.
Another category that's open to debate. A few facts: Tigers have brains that are 16% larger than lions, leopards, or jaguars, and brain size is often linked to intelligence. They have an impressive range of vocalizations, including roars, purrs, grunts, moans, and coughs, along with non-verbal communication like posture and smell. On the other hand, sharks have been shown to learn, remember, and even teach each other. Some species work together to encircle their prey. Both tigers and sharks have complex social systems that we're only beginning to understand.
From 1970 to 2005, 99% of hammerhead, bull, and dusky sharks along the East Coast disappeared. Every year, an estimated 73 million of all species are killed, mostly by fishing. Still, the ocean is vast, and even a (unnecessarily) feared predator like the great white is only listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Tigers are in far worse shape, with fewer than 4,000 believed to still exist in the wild. The IUCN lists them as "Endangered," meaning the entire species faces "a high risk of extinction in the future." Three sub-species went extinct in the 20th century.
Discovery, the company behind Shark Week, partners with Oceana to raise money for shark conservation. Discovery also teamed up with World Wildlife Fund and other partners for Project C.A.T., to conserve acres for tigers and double the number of tigers in the wild.
So who wins in the showdown between tigers and sharks? If we take action, they both will, and these magnificent creatures will remain on the planet with us for generations to come.
Jason Ginsburg manages the adventure, science, and nature content for Discovery Plus, which produces Shark Week, Serengeti, and other award-winning programming.