The Biology of the Nurse Shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, Off the Florida East Coast and the Bahama Islands

Abstract

The nurse shark is an extremely abundant shallow water species in Florida and the Caribbean, yet its biology is poorly known. Moreover, there is a great deal of misinformation about it in the literature. The maximum size and weight attained by the nurse shark have often been exaggerated. None of the specimens measured in this study exceeded 265 cm TL and 114.5 kg, and none of the specimens actually measured by other researchers exceeded 280 cm. Females reach maturity at a length of 223–231 cm, or at 86% of their maximum size. Males reach maturity between 214 and 214.6 cm in length or at about 83% of their maximum size. Mating primarily occurs from mid-June to early July. The embryos are enclosed in sturdy egg capsules for the first 12–14 weeks of gestation. In a gravid female, the embryos are at different stages of development during the first four months of gestation. Embryos are lecithotrophic and there is no evidence of any supplemental mode of embryonic nourishment. Embryos measure 28–30.5 cm at birth. The gestation period is estimated at about five to six months. Brood sizes are large, ranging from 21 to 50 young, with a median of 34 young. The reproductive cycle of the nurse shark consists of a five to six-month gestation period and a two-year ovarian cycle. Thus, the reproductive cycle is biennial and a female produces a brood every two years. The nurse shark is an opportunistic predator that consumes a wide range of small fishes, primarily grunts (Haemulidae).

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Castro, J.I. The Biology of the Nurse Shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, Off the Florida East Coast and the Bahama Islands. Environmental Biology of Fishes 58, 1–22 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1007698017645

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  • elasmobranch
  • name
  • maximum size
  • size at maturity
  • reproduction
  • reproductive cycle
  • gestation
  • lecithotrophy
  • brood size
  • diet