Nurse Shark

Family: Ginglymostomatidae Picture of a Nurse SharkGinglymostoma cirratumPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy R. Duncan
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Nurse sharks are not good for home aquariums. A Federal Permit IS required to collect them and have to be sold to a licensed wholesale facility. State waters there... (more)  Bambi Ghys

   The Nurse Shark is one of the most available sharks and is easy to keep. But despite it's popularity, the Nurse Shark has one major drawback as an addition to your aquarium. it can grow very large, up to approximately 14 ft. (430 cm)! We are talking about a fish that will need a lot of space! It must be housed in a huge aquarium, up to 1400 gallons!

   The Nurse Shark belongs to the family Ginglymostomatidae of which there are two genera with two species each. Members of this family have two relatively close-set dorsal fins of about equal size on the posterior half of the body. They also have a pair of barbels below the snout, and a groove between each nasal opening and the corner of the mouth. The Nurse Shark are considered harmless unless provoked.

For more Information on keeping marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Actiniform
  • Class: Elasmobranchii
  • Order: Orectolobiformes
  • Family: Ginglymostomatidae
  • Genus: Ginglymostoma
  • Species: cirratum
Nurse Shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum

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Nurse Shark in the ocean

A Nurse Shark will grow to 14 feet long, so unless you have a 30,000 gallon tank or more, this may be a fish to pass on as a pet! There are many other sharks that only reach 2 to 3 feet that only need about 200 to 300 gallons, which is much more reasonable! Nurse sharks are very cool to encounter in the wild, being very docile and gentle giants.

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Maintenance difficulty:    The Nurse Shark is easy to keep but may get too large for most aquariums. They can reach 430 cm. (approx. 14 ft.). The minimum recommended size aquarium is 5000 liters (1400 gallons). They are usually sold as smaller juveniles at about 40-50 cm.

Maintenance:    Keep in a large aquarium and feed regularly several times a week. They cruise the bottom in search of food with their barbels close to the bottom. A sandy bottom is preferred. In the wild their diet includes fishes, crabs, prawns, lobsters, other crustaceans and cephalopods.

Habitat: Natural geographic location:    Nurse Shark are found in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific. They occur on coral and rocky reefs, usually close to shore.

Foods:    Feed all kinds of large meaty foods like small pieces of fish, squid, shrimp, and live goldfish.

Social Behaviors:    Unknown.

Sex: Sexual differences:     The medial edges of the male's pelvic fins are modified to form claspers. The claspers are tubelike organs designed to deliver sperm into the female's reproductive tract. As the males grow older the claspers become more pronounced. The females do not have these.

Light: Recommended light levels:    No special requirements.

Breeding/Reproduction:    This species is oviviparous, meaning the eggs are fertilized internally. The young are nourished mainly by yolk while in the uterus. Litters of 20-30 young have been reported.

Temperature:    Temperature should be around 26 degrees C.

Length/Diameter of fish:    Nurse Shark adults can grow to 430cm (14 ft.) but are usually smaller in aquariums.

Minimum Tank Length/Size:    A minimum 150 gallon aquarium is recommended for juveniles but they will outgrow this!

Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong    No special requirements.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom    They spend most of their time on the bottom..

Availability:    This fish is rarely available and is expensive.

Lastest Animal Stories on Nurse Shark

Bambi Ghys - 2011-03-04
Nurse sharks are not good for home aquariums. A Federal Permit IS required to collect them and have to be sold to a licensed wholesale facility. State waters there is a 54" size limit (in Florida). Then sold Pet Stores. It is a myth the fish only grows to the size of the tank.

  • Bambi Ghys - 2011-05-11
    We are working on keeping Nurse Sharks OUT of Pet Stores.
  • David Augustine - 2022-12-25
Anonymous - 2007-02-25
It is now currently illegal to purchase, sell, or keep a nurse shark in captivity without a license issued from the federal government. Which means any nurse shark in captivity outside an endorsed aquarium or zoo is illegal.

Jes - 2006-01-08
i have had one for two yrs. beautiful and very hungry all the time. his favorite meal is lion fish and everything else in the tank. it is very difficult to have anything else in the tank, but they are so beautiful and amazing that it is worth having it by it self.

  • Jacob - 2011-09-29
    How big is your tank. No matter how big your tank is it will get 3 Plus meters and when it is to big what are you going to do then.
Anonymous - 2008-09-11
I'm doing an project on nurse sharks. I'm in 6th grade and I'm trying to make a good grade on it. Good luck to myself.

  • Dominic - 2010-05-26
    I like nurse sharks,they are one of my favorites and I like hand feeding them and I'm in 5th grade and I am an expert!Trust me, I study and keep a log:-)