Nurse Shark Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

If you think about a shark, one of the images that come to mind may be its big fin sticking out of the water. But did you know there are many different kinds of sharks? Learn about one shark--the nurse shark-- in this lesson.

What is a Nurse Shark?

Imagine that you are diving underwater to explore the ocean. All around you are beautiful, colorful fish that are big and small. If you're near a reef, you can see large pieces of living coral, which look like live rocks. As you swim further down to the bottom, you see a big group of brown, gray fish just lying on the floor in a pile. They're very still, and many are much bigger than you. There might be 30 of them! You have just met a school (also called a shoal) or group of nurse sharks!

Nurse Shark
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During the day, nurse sharks usually rest on the floor of the ocean. That's because they're nocturnal and swim and eat at night. They like shallow water, swim slowly along the bottom (bottom-dwellers), and are found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean Sea. Nurse sharks can swim fast for small bursts at a time, but they usually move pretty slowly. A nurse shark has two fins on its back and one fin on its tail, which can be very long.

Nurse sharks have 20 to 40 babies at once. The babies are dark and have black spots that disappear as they get older. They're only about 1 foot long when they're born, and they grow slowly. By the time they are about 18 years old, nurse sharks can be 7 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds! Some nurse sharks can grow even bigger to about 11-13 feet!

Where did they Get the Name Nurse Shark?

There are two possible reasons these fish have the unusual name 'nurse shark'. If you listen when a nurse shark swims along the sand to look for food, it makes a sucking sound. The name 'nurse shark' might be because the sound is like the noise a baby makes when nursing. Another possibility for the name is a word used in the Old English language; 'hurse' or 'huss', meaning sea-floor shark, and that the word eventually became 'nurse.'

How are Nurse Sharks Different from Other Sharks?

Although they are like other kinds of sharks in most ways, nurse sharks are different in a few important ways.

  • Nurse sharks can stay in one place without moving and are able to breathe, while other sharks can only breathe when they are swimming.
  • Nurse sharks have smooth skin.

Nurse Shark on the Ocean Floor
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