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Nurse Shark

Ginglymostoma cirratum

Distinguishing Characteristics

Illustration of a nurse shark showing important characteristics
  • Very blunt mouth with nasal barbels on each side
  • Eyes very small
  • Brown to yellow-brown above, lighter below (juveniles often have black spots)
  • Broadly rounded dorsal and anal fins
  • First and second dorsal fins are similar in size
  • First dorsal fin begins well behind pectoral fins
  • No distinct lower lobe of caudal fin
  • No interdorsal ridge

Similar Species: Lemon shark, N. brevirostris (lacks nasal barbels) 


Maximum size about 9 feet. Matures at approximately 6 feet and is estimated to live 24+ years.


An abundant, coastal, tropical and subtropical shark that inhabits nearshore waters of both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida. Often seen lying motionless on the bottom. Preferred habitats are coral reefs, rocks, and mangrove islands.


Feeds mainly on bottom invertebrates such as spiny lobsters, shrimps, crabs, sea urchins, squid, octopi, and marine mollusks; also feeds on some fish species, especially grunts.


Mating occurs in aggregations during the summer and after a short gestation period of 6 months females give birth to live young. Broods contain 20-50 pups. Size at birth about 1 foot. Juveniles utilize shallow coral reefs, rocky areas, grass flats, and mangrove islands as nursery habitat.

Additional Information

Valued in the Caribbean for its high-quality hide, but is considered a nuisance species in most North American longline fisheries with fins and meat of little value. Does well in captivity and has been used in many physiological and immunological studies. This sluggish bottom-dwelling shark has been involved in only a few bites on humans, most of which were provoked.

Recreational Regulations


Image Credit: © Diane Rome Peebles