We were lucky enough to see a group of docile nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum, meaning ‘hinged mouth’) cruising the sea floor in the same spot the bottlenose dolphins often feed. ‘Lucky’ because nurse sharks usually rest under reef ledges by day.
They probe for buried seafood using barbels in their mouth. Nurse sharks generate suction forces so strong, they are among the highest recorded for any aquatic vertebrate to date. They have thousands of tiny serrated teeth to eat their prey and crunch through shells.
On the menu are lobsters, clams, crabs, squid, shrimp and 100% NOT humans!
Nurse sharks reach sexual maturity around 15 to 20 years old, producing litters of 20-30 young every other year. The eggs hatch within the female’s body and the young are born fully developed. Summer breeding occurs in shallow waters, where a male holds onto a female’s pectoral fin with his mouth, rolls her over and briefly inserts his clasper into her cloaca (before collapsing in fatigue!)
Females average 7.5-9 feet in length, weigh 165-230 lbs, and are slightly larger than males.
Young nurse sharks often start out covered in spots, which disappear with age. That’s the exact opposite of Atlantic Spotted dolphins, born without spots, which appear & increase over time.