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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Tawny Nurse Shark Nebrius ferrugineus

The docile, bottom-living tawny nurse shark is a favorite with underwater photographers because, although it may bite if harassed, it can be approached closely. During the day, it rests quietly in caves and channels in coral reefs, emerging at night to hunt for invertebrates. A pair of long sensory barbels on either side of the mouth helps the shark to find its prey, which it crushes using wide teeth.


The bottom-dwelling, docile nurse shark is found in a variety of habitats which include continental shelves, coral and rocky reefs, mangroves and sand flats. Nurse sharks are equipped with long barbells on their snout to locate benthic prey.

Although their meat is not widely commercialized, nurse sharks fall victim to bycatch in gillnets and longlines. Their inshore habitats also make them susceptible to increasing coastal development, water pollution and coral reef degradation. Nurse sharks are listed as “Data Deficient” on IUCN’s Red List.

What Oceana Does

Oceana is working internationally to protect and restore shark populations. Through policy, science, legal and communications work, Oceana is pushing for true shark finning bans, species-specific shark management and reduced shark bycatch.

Tawny Nurse Sharkzoom image
  • Order Orectolobiformes
  • Length Up to 10 ft (3.2 m)
  • Weight Not recorded
  • Depth 3–230 ft (1–70 m), typically 100 ft (30 m)
  • Distribution Indian Ocean, western and southwestern Pacific
Tawny Nurse Shark habitat mapzoom image