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Nurse Shark Ginglymostoma cirratum


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Nurse Shark
credit: Dr. Mathew Gilligan

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Family: Orectolobidae, Carpet Sharks view all from this family

Description Elongated body, yellow-brown to grey-brown in color, darker above. Moderately long barbels, mouth well in front of eyes, tail shorter than head and body, 2 dorsal fins broadly rounded (the first much larger than the second and anal fins), caudal fin moderately long, over 1/4 of total length, with or without small dark spots and obscure dorsal saddle markings. Head blunt, mouth inferior, pair of conspicuous barbels between nostrils.

Dimensions Up to 14' (4.3 m).

Warning Although its teeth are small and scale-like, the Nurse Shark has a tenacious grip, and divers who bother it risk serious skin abrasions.

Habitat Estuaries, tidal flats & salt marshes, Ocean or bay shallows.

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Florida, Texas.

Discussion Nurse sharks are nocturnal animals, spending the day in large inactive groups of up to 40 individuals. Hidden under submerged ledges or in crevices within the reef, the nurse sharks seem to prefer specific resting sites and will return to them each day after the night's hunting. By night, the sharks are largely solitary; they spend most of their time rifling through the bottom sediments in search of food. Their diet consists primarily of crustaceans, molluscs, tunicates, sea snakes, and other fish, particularly stingrays.