Sharks in the wild face numerous threats, from getting caught in the kilometres-long lines of fishing trawlers to the destruction of their inland nurseries to indiscriminate and unmonitored killing through shark fishing and shark finning. Australian waters are home to vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered shark species.
Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)
also known as the sand tiger shark or spotted ragged tooth shark
The species has a large, rather stout body and is coloured grey to grey-brown dorsally, with a paler off white under belly. Reddish or brownish spots may occur on the caudal fin and posterior half of the body, particularly in juveniles. The species has a conical snout, long awl-like teeth in both jaws (with single lateral cusplets), similarly sized first and second dorsal fin and an asymmetrical caudal fin. Grey nurse sharks grow to at least 360 cm total length. The grey nurse shark is a slow but strong swimmer and is generally more active at night.
The diet of the adult grey nurse shark consists of a wide range of fish, other sharks, squids, crabs and lobsters.
Grey nurse sharks are often observed just above the sea bed in or near deep sandy-bottomed gutters or rocky caves, in the vicinity of inshore rocky reefs and islands.
Grey nurse sharks have a broad inshore distribution, primarily in subtropical to cool temperate waters around the main continental landmasses. In Australia, grey nurse sharks have been regularly reported from Mooloolaba in southern Queensland, around most of the southern half of the continent (excluding the Great Australian Bight), and northward to Shark Bay in Western Australia. The grey nurse shark has been recorded as far north as Cairns in the east, the North West Shelf in the west and also in the Arafura Sea.
Threat to species
Until recently, the grey nurse shark had an undeserved reputation in Australia as a man-eater, leading to indiscriminate killing of the species by spear and line fishers. It is not a threat to divers or swimmers unless provoked. Many shark attacks in Australia have also been attributed incorrectly to the grey nurse shark often due to its fierce appearance. Current threats to the species are believed to be being caught in other non-protected shark fisheries, recreational fishing and to a much lesser extent beach meshing.
The Grey Nurse Shark is listed as two separate populations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act 1999). The east coast population is listed as critically endangered and the west coast population is listed as vulnerable. This species became the first protected shark in the world when the NSW Government declared it a protected species in 1984. Grey nurse sharks are now protected under fisheries legislation in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland and Western Australia. Globally, the species is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals since March, 2000.
Source: The Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.