Wildlife Fact Sheets

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Ginglymostoma cirratum

  • Life Span
    I can live up to 25 years.
  • Habitat
    I prefer to stay close to the seafloor in warm, shallow waters.
  • Range
    You can find me in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific.
  • Preferred Food
    I will eat shellfish, fish, squid and shrimp.


I look a little different from other sharks—I don’t have the big, fierce jaws and quintessential body shape that most other well-known sharks have. Instead, you can recognize me by my broad, flat head and large, flexible tail fin. I have a set of small (but sharp!) teeth and barbels that hang from my chin like a catfish that help me sense prey in the sand.

I’m one of the most-seen sharks by divers in the Western Atlantic. As long as you don’t step on me, it doesn’t bother me much–I’m mostly harmless to humans. Humans can be harmful to me, though—while I’m not often captured for food, I am sometimes captured for the ornamental fish trade and as bycatch. I also live in coral reef ecosystems that are impacted by nutrient run-off, pollution and more.

Did You Know?

No one knows exactly where I got my name, but some think it comes from the word nusse, which means cat sharks. Others think it comes from the sucking sound I make when hunting for prey in the sand. Or it could be from the Old English word hurse, meaning sea-floor shark. Regardless, I think it suits me!

Status and Conservation

I’m a complete night owl. During the day, I prefer to rest on the seafloor, sometimes in piles of my fellow nurse sharks. But don’t let my daytime sluggishness fool you–at night I am incredibly active and roam the sandy bottoms for prey. While I’m active, some of my prey fish are resting, which makes them easier for me to snag. When I find something I want to eat, I cup my mouth over the area and expand my throat, which makes a vacuum to suck the prey out of its hiding place.

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