Nurse Shark

(Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in the Atlantic Ocean from Rhode Island to Brazil and in the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California to Ecuador. They inhabit bays, estuaries, and shallow tropical reefs.

Size: Up to 14 feet long; Up to 400 pounds

Wild Diet: Small fish, crab, lobster, shrimp, octopus, squid, and sea urchins

Predators: Humans

Reproduction: Nurse sharks are ready to mate when they are about 5 feet long and are thought to breed year-round. They are ovoviviparous, meaning that eggs develop and hatch in the mother’s body and young are born live. Females deliver 20-30 pups at a time, each only 12 inches long. During courtship, the male turns darker than the female. Courting pairs swim side-by-side.

Behavior: Nurse sharks are nocturnal and docile unless disturbed. They are sluggish bottom dwellers, often found in groups of 20-30 and sometimes piled on top of each other in caves and on reefs. They use their mouths like vacuums to suck prey out of crevices.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Data Deficient

Nurse sharks are not widely commercially fished, but they are easy targets for local fisheries because they move so slowly. They are sometimes used as bait to catch other animals and their tough skin is prized for leather. Sharks in general reproduce slowly, bear few young at a time, have a long gestation period, and swim great distances to find a mate. So it takes years for their populations to recover from overfishing.

Did you know?

  • Nurse sharks can change colors to match their surroundings.
  • They grow a new set of teeth every 8 days.
  • They have two nasal barbels­, which look like fleshy whiskers, near the mouth to help them feel around for prey on the reefs and the sandy ocean floor.