View Full Version : Nurse Shark Encounters
June 21st, 2002, 02:07 AM
I just got back from several days of diving in the Gulf of Mexico (out of Pensacola, FL). On our last day, we encounterd our 1st shark ever. It was a ~9' nurse shark, and it was just sitting quietly on the sandy bottom, tucked into a depression next to the side of a wreck (Navy Camel barge). My wife and I were pretty excited at this, and we just observed the shark from what we hoped was a safe distance. Since we just came upon it after coming around the corner of the wreck, we were right on top of it, when we noticed it, though. We had to surface, and when we got back to the boat, we talked to the other three (more experienced) divers who were also there. They said that they each petted the shark. It swam away and came back, whereupon, they petted it again. They said that nurse sharks are harmless and, anyway, have "really small teeth". My question is: How harmless are nurse sharks? Is it prudent for divers to actually pester them? Are there any documented cases where people have been injured? What is your experience with these seemingly docile critters???
June 21st, 2002, 07:06 AM
Hi seyleyrdl - Nurse sharks are generelly concidered fairly harmless. They have small mouths and teeth. (compared to their cousins!) Here, in N.E. FL., we catch 'em all the time. Purty much a nuisence(sp). They are, however, the most tasty shark out there. I believe they mostly dine on crustaceans.(sp). :) As you well know, they can get quite large!
June 21st, 2002, 08:27 AM
Originally posted by seylerdl
They said that they each petted the shark. It swam away and came back, whereupon, they petted it again. They said that nurse sharks are harmless and, anyway, have "really small teeth". My question is: How harmless are nurse sharks? Is it prudent for divers to actually pester them? Are there any documented cases where people have been injured? What is your experience with these seemingly docile critters???
A nurse shark is "more harmless" than most of the rest of the shark family, in the sense that they tend to be less aggressive than, say, bull sharks.
I think the wording of your question is the answer. It's never prudent to pester a wild animal. I have touched nurse sharks in an organized shark feed dive, and they have an interesting texture, but I wouldn't make a grab for one outside of that environment. We come upon them fairly regularly when we are diving the West Palm/Ft Lauderdale area, and while I'm not at all afraid of them, I wouldn't try to touch one that was resting on the bottom or crusing along the reefs.
Yes, there are documented cases of people being injured by sharks. According to the International Shark Attack File at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/scuba/Shark/Shark.htm , they constutute 2.1% of shark attacks on divers. The site also documents 27 total nurse shark attacks overall, 18 of which were considered "provoked". I'm pretty sure that petting a shark could be considered provocation by the shark itself.
I know someone who was bitten in the face by a nurse shark. He was invovled in a study with Sea World, so I'm sure that falls into the "provoked" category. He's permanetly scarred. I'm not macho enough to want that kind of a souvenir.
There's no reason to be afraid of nurse sharks. You're not on their menu! Just use your common sense and enjoy seeing them.
June 21st, 2002, 08:42 AM
Great link. Those stats make interesing reading.
June 21st, 2002, 08:49 AM
Great link, I a little confused about the PRIMARY OBJECT OF ATTACKS ON DIVERS chart, though. What's an abiotic stimulas anyone ??
June 21st, 2002, 09:18 AM
While generally not aggressive, Nurse Sharks can, will, and have bitten humans. They are wild predators. Do you pet a mountain lion? Not me.
June 21st, 2002, 07:46 PM
Interesting link on shark attack statistics. I think I will continue to maintain my distance from nurse sharks.
June 21st, 2002, 09:32 PM
I've seen a chart of the "Most Dangerous Sharks in the World." While Great Whites and Tigers receive 3 stars, nurses received only one. I believe the chart is outdated and the above study is more accurate.
I have a good story for ya...
Last weekend we dove an oceanside wall known as "Speedball." This site is known for its sharks, and this day was a good shark day. While I was watching the grey reefs, my buddies were investigating a small cave-like nook. When they were done, it was my turn to look in. I went into it partially, and couldn't see the back of it due to it being very dark in there. I dug around in the bottom of it and noticed what looked to be some shark teeth. I wondered why there were so many but then realized that white-tips (reef) and nurse sharks liked to hang out in nook just like this. I then realized that there could be one in here now, and as soon as I realized that out of the darkness emerged a nervous 5-foot nurse. :eek: Well I nearly soiled myself. As I threw it in reverse to get out it put it in forward and was in my face while it tried to make its escape. I was very vocal and pictured it latching on to one of my extremities and not letting go. Finally I made enough room for it to escape and the shark took off in a hurry. I turned to my buddy and he shook his head. Through his mask his eyes said "that was real dumb." The thing I learned on this day was "don't stick your nose where it doesn't belong." :nono:
Later on the boat my buddy told me that was the fastest he ever saw a nurse move. It turns out that while I was looking elsewhere, the others were taking pictures of the shark. I didn't receive the shark warning from them. I do have a couple nice photos of the shark and will post one later tonight when I get home.
This is also the day I had two grey reefs posture at me. We see sharks nearly on every dive, and that day was the first time they showed aggression. I think they were mad that I scared their beloved nurse. :D
June 21st, 2002, 10:45 PM
where exactly in the Marshall Islands are you? For years now I have wanted to visit Milli Atoll since I am fascinated with the story of the Globe mutiny. Ever done any diving on Milli?
June 21st, 2002, 11:24 PM
Mili Atoll is supposedly where Amelia Earhart was seen under Japanese custody after she disappeared in this part of the Pacific. I have never been diving there, I suppose it would be similar to the diving here. I'm not familiar with the Globe mutany... can you expound?
June 21st, 2002, 11:53 PM
Globe was a Nantucket whaling ship in 1800's. William Comstock was I believe a Boatseer on the ship and, together with a handful of crew members, murdered all the ships officers. He landed in Milli with the idea of setting himself up as a sort of god/chief among the natives on a tropical paradise. Some of the men (his brother among them) became worried Comstock was going to destroy the ship and kill off the crew and stole away at night while he was on the island. A power struggle amongst the mutineers led to Comstock being murdered. Shortyly thereafter, due to harsh treatment, the natives massacered all but 2 of the remaining Globe crew (who did not participate in the mutiny). The natives kept these 2 as virtual slaves for a couple of years until they were rescued by a US Navy ship sent by the crew who stole away from Milli in the Globe. Very bloody mutiny as was the massacer by the natives. James Michener recounts the story in his book Rascals in Paradise. There are also 2 new books that have come out the last few months about it. The story of the 2 who were kept as slaves and their rescue is as interesting as the Comstock part.
June 22nd, 2002, 02:30 AM
Im not sure where I heard it or if I read it somewhere. But it was that more divers are bitten by nurse sharks than any other sharks. Because thay are so calm around divers, and yes I have petted nurse sharks myself.