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Species Spotlight: Nurse Sharks


The nurse shark gets its name from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, which vaguely resembles that of a nursing baby. Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 14 feet—and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile.

They use their strong jaws to crush and eat shellfish and even coral, but prefer to dine on fish, shrimp, and squid. They are gray-brown and have distinctive tail fins that can be up to one-fourth their total length. Unlike most other sharks, nurses are smooth to the touch.

Nurse sharks are among the most popular animal attractions in Belize. Each year thousands of visitors partake in snorkeling and diving expeditions in hopes of seeing them in their natural habitat. In a further effort to protect this species, marine reserves across the country have been established in areas where nurse sharks are known to live in.  Nurse sharks are fully protected under Fisheries Law – it is illegal to kill a nurse shark in Belize. The common sentiment among conservationists is that live sharks and rays generate far more income to a country than shark fishing for meat.

The most common shark you will see at Reef Conservation International is the nurse shark; although other species are commonly spotted, we have several nurse sharks who live near us and we know them well – like neighbors!