Nurse shark


Scientific name

Ginglymostoma cirratum




Up to 3.1 meters (10 feet)


35 years

Did you know?

Nurse sharks are among the most common shark species found in the tropical and temperate seas of the Atlantic Ocean; however, we know very little about their ecology or population status. They have relatively small home ranges and tend to stick close to home, but some individuals undergo seasonal migrations of more than 300 km one way.

About Nurse sharks

Nurse sharks are benthic, or bottom-dwelling, sharks that are common in tropical and temperate seas in the Atlantic Ocean. Some divers (and scientists) consider them lazy as they are often encountered sleeping under reef overhangs during the day, but nurse sharks are in fact largely nocturnal and are quite active after dark. While many sharks need to swim in order to breathe, nurse sharks can pump water over their gills using ‘buccal pumping’, or opening and closing their mouths. Nurse sharks largely are harmless to humans, as they are obligate suction feeders, using their small teeth mostly for gripping; however, unwary snorkelers or divers have had hands and fingers injured by nurse sharks looking for a handout at feeding sites. 

Although nurse sharks have been fully protected from fishing in Belize since 2012, their long generation times make them slow to recover from overfishing – studies have estimated that nurse sharks do not reach sexual maturity until 25 years of age! Our research has found that there are roughly 3,800 to 14,400 nurse sharks throughout Belize. The highest densities of nurse sharks were found at the atolls furthest away from the mainland, where fishing pressures are lower. 


Nurse sharks mostly eat small fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates such as conchs.


The nurse shark is found in the Atlantic Ocean throughout tropical and temperate seas. It inhabits rocky and coral reefs, seagrasses, mangrove channels, and sand flats and continental shelves from inshore to 130 meters.

Fun facts

Nurse sharks generate suction forces that are among the highest recorded for any aquatic vertebrate - a nurse shark can literally suck a conch out of its shell.

Nurse shark photo gallery

More species to explore

Bull shark

The bull shark is the most well-known of the shark species that can move easily between salt and freshwater habitats. Their freshwater tolerance puts the

Read More
Underwater view of great hammerhead shark and baitfish, Bahamas

Great hammerhead shark

The hammerhead sharks in the family Sphyrnidae are among the most uniquely adapted sharks, easily identifiable by their large, flattened hammer-shaped heads. The bizarre head

Read More

Tiger shark

Tiger sharks are among the most feared species of sharks in the world, with a reputation for being aggressive and somewhat unpredictable. In actuality, tiger

Read More