Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Ginglymostoma cirratum

DID YOU KNOW?

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

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

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Nurse Shark

The nurse shark is light yellowish-brown to dark brown, sometimes have small dark spots. It 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. 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 to 22 years for females. Females produce a litter of about 20 to 25 pups every other year.

Diet

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.

Size

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

Range

Common in tropical and subtropical coastal waters on both sides of North America, nurse sharks often inhabit reefs and rest during the day on sandy bottoms or in caves and crevices. They show a strong preference for certain resting sites, repeatedly returning to the same spot after their nocturnal forages.

Predators

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.

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A Note From the Caretaker

Visitors often think this shark is in trouble when they see it lying on the bottom of the Shark Alley 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.

Aquadopt

Sharks! Behind-the-Scenes

National Aquarium - Immersion Tours

Learn About Sharks! Behind the Scenes

Get uncomfortably close to these predators of the deep.