Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Ginglymostoma cirratum


The nurse shark can use its large front fins to “walk” along the ocean floor.

Exhibit Name and Location:
Baltimore - Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators

Add to Trip Planner

Nurse Shark Nurse Shark Nurse Shark Nurse Shark National Aquarium - Nurse Shark  Video

Nurse Shark

Nurse sharks are light yellowish-brown to dark brown, and some have small dark spots.

The nurse shark has a flattened body and a broad, rounded head with two conspicuous barbels between the nostrils, which are used to help find food.

The mouth is filled with rows of small, serrated teeth for crushing hard-shelled prey.

Generally slow and sluggish, nurse sharks spend much of their time resting on the ocean's bottom. Because this shark can pump water over its gills, it does not need to swim in order to breathe. If it must move, the nurse shark may even use its large front (or pectoral) fins to "walk" along the ocean floor.

Unlike many sharks, this species is non-migratory—the nurse shark adapts to cold by becoming even less active!

Nurse sharks reach sexual maturity at 18 years for males, and 20–22 years for females. Females produce a litter of about 20–25 pups every other year.


Although they may appear sluggish, nurse sharks slurp up benthic, or bottom-dwelling, organisms in their bellows-like mouths with amazing speed.

They feed mostly at night on spiny lobsters and other crustaceans, small stingrays, sea urchins, squid, and bony fishes.


Female nurse sharks, averaging 7.5–9 feet in length and 165–230 pounds, are slightly larger than males.


Nurse sharks are common in tropical and subtropical coastal waters on both sides of North America.

They are common in reefs, and often rest during the day on sandy bottoms or in caves and crevices.

Nurse sharks show a strong preference for certain resting sites, repeatedly returning to the same spot after their nocturnal forages.

Population Status

Nurse sharks are common throughout their range and are not considered threatened or endangered.


No species is known to regularly prey on nurse sharks, although they have been found in the stomach contents of lemon, tiger, bull, and great hammerhead sharks.

Their meat is not generally found in fish markets, but in some areas they are caught and killed by fishermen because they are considered pests that raid bait intended for catching other species.

They are also found in the pet trade, although they quickly outgrow most hobbyist tanks!

Back to the Top

A Note From the Caretaker

Visitors often think this shark is in trouble when they see it lying on the bottom of the Open Ocean exhibit. If you overhear people commenting, explain that the shark is fine. Point out the movement of the gill slits as the shark pumps water over its gills to obtain oxygen.


Sharks! Behind-the-Scenes

National Aquarium - Immersion Tours

Learn About Sharks! Behind the Scenes

Get uncomfortably close to these predators of the deep.