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Fact Sheets - Grey Nurse Sharks      

Marine Conservation

Fact Sheet - Grey Nurse Sharks

The Grey Nurse Shark, Carcharias taurus is also known as the sand tiger shark (USA) and the spotted ragged-tooth shark (South Africa). It has a large fusiform body, a conical snout and is coloured grey to grey-brown dorsally, with a pale off-white underbelly. Juveniles often possess reddish spots that fade with age.

Grey Nurse Sharks are slow growing animals, taking between 4-6 years to mature. They produce a maximum of 2 pups per litter after a gestation period lasting 9-12 months. Females grow to approximately 318 cm, maturing at around 220 cm. Males attain a size of approximately 257 cm., maturing at 190 cm. At birth, pups measure approximately 1 metre in length. The lifespan of the Grey Nurse Shark is unknown, however those in captivity live to between 13 and 16 years.

Following a nomination by HSI, the Grey Nurse Shark was listed under the Australian Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in August 2000. When it became clear the situation had worsened, the east-coast population was upgraded to critically endangered after another HSI nomination in 2001. HSI has also secured listings under NSW threatened species laws and similar protection is promised in Queensland.

Since 2010, more than 20 grey nurse shark have been killed in shark nets in NSW.

With the population of grey nurse shark on the east coast estimated to be less than 1500 individuals, the Grey Nurse Shark may be Australia' s most threatened marine species. HSI nominated the grey nurse shark as critically endangered in 2001.

There has never been a reported attack on a human by a grey nurse shark, but they are often killed.

Despite legislation prohibiting the capture of grey nurse sharks, hooking and capture is still occurring. 

The Grey Nurse Shark has suffered badly from mistaken identity. Due to their fierce appearance people mistake them for other shark species that pose a danger to humans. In the past Grey Nurse Sharks were killed indiscriminately by recreational and spear fishers, causing the demise of the species in Australian waters. In actual fact, there has never been a reported attack on a human by a Grey Nurse Shark. Yet humans have killed thousands of the sharks over the years.

Grey Nurse Sharks inhabit primarily the warm-temperate (from sub-tropical to cool-temperate) inshore waters of the North and South Atlantic, Indian and western Pacific oceans. Little is known about this species, however it is known to be a migratory species, migrating in response to sea temperatures in order to breed.

Aggregations of Grey Nurse Sharks, (that is, small groups, usually fewer than 20 individuals), or solitary sharks are frequently observed by divers congregating in or around sandy-bottomed gutters, rocky caves and around inshore rocky reefs and islands, their preferred habitats.
In Australian waters, Grey Nurse Shark prefers to feed on a mixture of species. These include pilchards, jewfish, tailor, bonito, moray eels, wrasses, sea mullet, flathead, yellowtail, kingfish, small sharks, squid and crustaceans, many of which are caught by commercial, recreational and spear fishers or in beach protection nets.

The key processes threatening the recovery and survival of the Grey Nurse Shark include incidental capture in commercial fishing operations; bycatch in beach meshing programs on the east coast of the country (in NSW and QLD waters); illegal shark finning practices; and a growing threat from over zealous tourists and increasing numbers of ecotourism ventures. However, scientists and conservationists consider the accidental, perhaps occasionally even intentional, capture of Grey Nurse Sharks by recreational fishers to be the current greatest threat to the species future survival and recovery.
HSI has also nominated recreational fishing and shark protection nets to be listed as Key Threatening Processes under state and federal legislation. We hope listings will lead to government action to mitigate the threats.
Despite legislation prohibiting the capture of Grey Nurse Sharks, incidental hooking and capture of the species is still occurring. Hooks, lines and wire traces in the animals may also affect their ability to feed successfully, cause severe stress and infections potentially leading to death. Septicaemia is also common, and ensures a slow painful death.

Extinction for this icon Australian species appears imminent unless a plan to recover the species can be successfully implemented. In June 2002 the Commonwealth Government of Australia released its Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark, which offers strong actions to mitigate against the identified threats to the species, affords protection to identified areas of critical habitat and reinforces that heavy fines under the Commonwealth' s environment legislation are applicable for the taking of Grey Nurse Shark. (Copies can be obtained at www.ea.gov.au/epbc/biodiversityconservation/index.html)

However, the Commonwealth recovery plan only applies to Commonwealth waters, and 17 of the 19 critical habitat sites needing urgent protection occur in NSW (12 sites) and Queensland (5 sites) waters. These states need to develop recovery plans of similar stature urgently.

Given the migratory habits of the Grey Nurse Shark, and the fact that our knowledge on the species is so limited, successfully recovering the species and ensuring its future survival is going to require a coordinated effort by all governments responsible for Grey Nurse Sharks in their waters.

HSI would like to see ' no take'  sanctuary zones created, comprising at least a 1000 metre radius around identified critical habitat sites. These areas must prohibit all forms of fishing, both commercial and recreational, and will have the added benefit of protecting the Grey Nurse Sharks food source.


Please write letters to the following Ministers:

The Honourable Mike Baird MP, NSW Premier
Email: manly@parliament.nsw.gov.au
Tel: (02) 9228 5239

The Honourable Josh Frydenburg, Minister for the Environment & Energy
Tel: 02 6277 7920
Email: josh.frydenberg.mp@aph.gov.au

The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk, QLD Premier
Tel: (07) 3737 2100
Email: Inala@parliament.qld.gov.au

Remind the Minsisters of the Grey Nurse Shark's critically endangered status.

Call on the Premiers to do all that is within their powers to ensure the greatest level of protection possible for identified areas of critical habitat (ie. 1000m ' no-take'  sanctuary zones which exclude all forms of fishing activity).

Web: AndreasLustig.com