Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)

Legislative protection

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The Grey Nurse Shark is listed as two separate populations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The east coast population is listed as critically endangered.
EPBC Act Status and Documents - Carcharias taurus (east coast population) — Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population)

The west coast population is listed as vulnerable.
EPBC Act Status and Documents - Carcharias taurus (west coast population) — Grey Nurse Shark (west coast population) Glossary

This species became the first protected shark in the world when the New South Wales Government declared it a protected species in 1984.

Grey nurse sharks are now protected under fisheries legislation in New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia.

Globally, the species is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals  in March 2000.

Australian Government Action

Domestic

The Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plan was developed in accordance with the guidelines for the compilation of recovery plans under the EPBC Act. This Plan sets out recovery objectives and actions to achieve those objectives.

Habitat and biology

The Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) also known as the sand tiger shark or spotted ragged-tooth shark, is one of four species belonging to the family Odontaspididae. 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 3.6 metres in length. The grey nurse shark is a slow but strong swimmer and is generally more active at night.

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. The diet of the adult grey nurse shark consists of a wide range of fish, other sharks, squids, crabs and lobsters.

Distribution

Grey nurse sharks have a broad inshore distribution, primarily in subtropical to cool temperate waters around the main continental land masses. The Australian east coast population is considered to extend from the Capricornia coast (central Queensland) to Narooma in southern New South Wales. The range of the west coast population is less well known. However, commercial shark bycatch fisheries data indicate that the species occupies sites from North West Shelf south to coastal waters near Cocklebiddy in the Great Australian Bight. 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.

Until recently, the grey nurse shark had an undeserved reputation in Australia as a man-eater. Harding (1990) found that it is not a threat to divers or swimmers unless provoked. Many shark attacks in Australia have been attributed incorrectly to the grey nurse shark (Whitley, 1983) often due to its fierce appearance. The grey nurse shark's reputation led to indiscriminate killing of the species by spear and line fishers. Current threats to the species are believed to be incidental catch from commercial fisheries, recreational fishing and, to a lesser extent, the bather protection programs run in New South Wales and Queensland.

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