Nurse sharks are still sharks!
A lot of people take nurse sharks for granted when it comes to their “sharkiness, “ quickly losing interest in spotting them along the reef. I will admit it; I love nurse sharks. They are big floppy rabbits with very cute faces. Do not let that cute exterior fool you though; they are one very powerful animal. Nurse sharks can suck a conch out of its shell and crush a lobster like it is nothing. They are primarily nocturnal bottom dwellers that can usually be found under ledges and lazing around.
The first shark I ever tagged was a nurse shark. They were also the first sharks I ever encountered on a dive. It was my 4th open water dive and I was off the Dry Tortugas in 80 feet of crystal clear water. A shrimp boat had dumped its by catch and the sharks came in to feed. It also attracted tons of fish and several massive loggerhead turtles that were the mood for love. There were about 10 sharks zooming in and around and I remember being absolutely lost in the moment. I probably had no business being in water that deep or in a feeding situation, but to this day it is one of the most amazing in water moments I have ever had. There was no fear, like a little kid I was absolutely fascinated, not taking any of the dangers into account.
We spend a lot of time in the Bahamas and nurse sharks are regulars in most marinas that you visit. The marina at the Bimini Sands is no exception, with a regular gang of 3 nurse sharks that can be found nestled under a ledge most days. When there weather is bad a few more move in and take shelter. While walking with my 6-year-old friend Mackenzie, we spotted 2 small nurse sharks lying on the bottom. She told me that they were nurse sharks and that she likes them because they are cute. I feel the same way. I love the innocence and openness of a child. She did not scream or think it was a monster; instead she was excited to see the shark and expressed a fondness for it.
Nurse sharks are great ambassadors for sharks. They have a cute, almost goofy appearance that seems to attract affection. When we do tours at the lab we usually start by introducing people to a nurse shark. This immediately breaks the fabricated stereotypes about sharks and preconceived notions start to disappear. Even my aunt, a vocal hater of sharks, really enjoyed the little nurse sharks and proudly announced that she no longer believed that every shark should be killed; pretty powerful for a small fish just over a foot long. There is a something about seeing a shark up close, in its miniature version that amazes people. They stop thinking about them as man-eaters and appreciate what an incredible animal they are.
Each shark has its own character, just like people. They have features that make them look as though they are making a silly face or laughing at a joke. If you look close they really are these beautiful and intricate little creatures.
A lot of “ shark people” are over nurse sharks and don’t even stop to give them a second glance. They are sharks and they are so cool. No, they don’t have the streamline, torpedo shaped body or the big bitey teeth, but they can suck a conch out of its shell! I am sorry, but that is pretty flipping cool! Look at their faces; I mean how cute is that? How can you not give a little giggle and appreciate Mother’s Nature’s sense of humor giving a big bad shark a goofy face like that. They are cute, but they are very powerful, so don’t be silly and grab them or try to ride them. Sharks are not underwater scooters and if you were taking a nap you would be a bit grouchy if some idiot grabbed you and hauled you out of bed.
So next time you see a nurse shark smile and think of that silly face. Sharks are awesome!