Ginglymostoma cirratum 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Orectolobiformes Ginglymostomatidae

Scientific Name: Ginglymostoma cirratum
Species Authority: (Bonnaterre, 1788)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Nurse Shark
Spanish Gata, Tiburón-gata

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2006
Date Assessed: 2006-01-31
Assessor(s): Rosa, R.S., Castro, A.L.F., Furtado, M., Monzini, J. & Grubbs, R.D.
Reviewer(s): Kyne, P.M., Cavanagh, R.D. & Musick, J.A. (Shark Red List Authority)
Despite its wide distribution in the tropical Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans, virtually nothing is known about the migratory behavior and connectivity (gene flow) between populations of Ginglymostoma cirratum. Preliminary studies on its biology indicate a strong site fidelity, which renders this shark vulnerable to local extirpation from overexploitation (Compagno 2001). There is recent qualitative evidence of population declines in several areas as well as decline and fragmentation of geographic range size. The species is extremely vulnerable to coastal fisheries, being incidentally and deliberately captured both in gillnets and longlines. It is an easy target of spear fishing due to its sedentary and docile behaviour, being prized in competitions for its large body size. The nurse shark is also vulnerable to indirect coastal impacts, particularly in reef areas, which constitute its main habitat. Due to the lack of data from its range in the Eastern Pacific and Eastern Atlantic, and a need for further investigation on this species in these areas, the species is currently assessed as Data Deficient globally.

The overall assessment for the Western Atlantic subpopulation is therefore Near Threatened, this is based on its Vulnerable status off South America, the likelihood of threats to the species throughout many areas of Central America and the Caribbean, and its Least Concern status off the US and Bahamas (for further information, see assessment for Ginglymostoma cirratum (Western Atlantic subpopulation)).

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Western Atlantic: Rhode Island, USA to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and the Antilles.

Eastern Atlantic: Cape Verde to Gabon; accidental to France.

Eastern Pacific: Gulf of California and southern Baja California, Mexico to Peru.

Extreme population reduction (and in some cases localized extinction) of the species from the southern portion of its range in the Western Atlantic has been reported (Rosa 2002). The species is no longer found in the southern portion of its Brazilian range, being declared locally extinct in Rio de Janeiro Municipality (Rio de Janeiro 2000).
Countries occurrence:
Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Costa Rica; Cuba; Dominica; Ecuador; Equatorial Guinea; France; French Guiana; Gabon; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Martinique; Mexico; Montserrat; Panama; Peru; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Senegal; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas); Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – western central; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – southeast
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Population size in Atol das Rocas, Brazil was estimated in 368 individuals (SD = 68), with Petersen-Bailey estimator, and 339 individuals (SD = 95) with Jolly-Seber estimator (Castro 2000a, Castro and Rosa 2005). This population is protected in a biological reserve. Other protected populations in Brazil include those of Marine State Park of Parcel Manuel Luiz (Maranhão State), Marine State Park of Risca do Meio (Ceará State), National Marine Park of Fernando de Noronha (Pernambuco State) and National Marine Park of Abrolhos (Bahia State).

Glover's Atol, Belize: Nurse Sharks are the most common elasmobranch on this offshore atol. They made up 68% of the elasmobranch catch in a fishery independent shark survey conducted in 2000 (Grubbs et al. 2000).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:A coastal shark found in tropical and subtropical waters of continental and insular shelves, often near patch reefs, both coralline and rocky, where it hides and rests during day hours (Cervigón and Alcalá 1999, Compagno 2001). Found from depths of 1m or less down to 130 m (Compagno 2001). Activity is more intense at night (Compagno 2001), but strong swimming in adults also occurs during the day (R. Rosa pers. obs. in Atol das Rocas). Fidelity to day resting sites such as caves and crevices, has been reported in the literature, as well as an aggregation behavior in such sites (Castro 2000a, Castro 2000b, Compagno 2001). Group behavior related to sexual activity is also reported in the literature (Carrier et al. 1994).

Size at birth is from 27 to 30 cm TL. Females attain maturity at 223 to 231 cm TL (Castro 2000b) or 230 to 240 cm TL (Compagno 2001) and males mature at 210 cm TL (Compagno 2001) or 214 cm TL (Castro 2000b). Maximum cited total lengths exceeding 450 cm TL are possibly greatly exaggerated (Castro 2000b). The largest reliably reported specimen was 308 cm TL (Compagno 2001).

Reproduction is aplacental viviparous, the retained eggs possessing a large amount of yolk (Compagno 2001). Number of intrauterine eggs 20 to 30, gestation period from five to six months, and reproduction occurs every other year (Compagno 2001). Brood sizes up to 50 young were reported by Castro (2000b), with a mean number of 34. Age at maturity estimated to be 10 to 15 years (males) and 15 to 20 years (females) (Carrier 1991, Carrier and Luer 1999, Compagno 2001).

Diet studies based on examination of stomach contents indicate small teleosts, cephalopods, gastropods, bivalves, sea urchins and crustaceans as the main prey items. Pieces of coral debris and algae occasionally occur in the stomachs (Castro 2000b, Compagno 2001). Such data indicate that the nurse shark is an opportunistic benthic predator.

Life history parameters
Age at maturity: Female: 15 to 20 years; Male: 10 to 15 years.
Size at maturity (total length): Female: 223 to 231 cm TL or 230 to 240 cm TL; Male: 210 to 214 cm TL.
Longevity (years): Unknown.
Maximum size (total length): 450 cm TL? Reliably 308 cm TL.
Size at birth: 27 to 30 cm TL.
Average reproductive age (years): Unknown.
Gestation time: 5 to 6 months.
Reproductive periodicity: Biennial.
Average annual fecundity or litter size: Average: 34 pups/litter.
Annual rate of population increase: Unknown.
Natural mortality: Unknown.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Aquarium use

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although edible, the nurse shark is not usually prized as market food. In Brazil the Nurse Shark is consumed locally by fishermen, who incidentally or actively capture the species. In Venezuela it is marketed salt dried (Cervigón and Alcalá 1999). Major threats include incidental and deliberate capture in coastal fisheries, spear fishing and capture for the ornamental fish trade, and indirectly, the impacts on the coastal zone, particularly on reef areas which constitute its preferred habitat. Human impacts (including pollution), increases in nutrient loading as a result of run-off after deforestation, and disturbance from tourism are all detrimental to this species' shallow reef habitat. Actively targeted by Panamanian artisanal fishers with lines and gillnets. Fished by artisanal fishers along the Colombian coast with nets and lines. Nurse sharks are also harvested in parts of the Caribbean for their skin.

In the United States, they are occasionally captured in the bottom longline fishery, however, nearly all are released and post-release survivorship is high.

Nurse Sharks are fished in Panama for their fins and meat (US$ 0.75 per Lb) (Monzini 2004). In Colombia nurse sharks are mostly targetted for the skin while meat is usually transformed into animal food (Cervigon et al. 1999). In Panama, juveniles are also collected for public and private aquarium (Monzini 2004).

Information on trade and utilization is lacking from other parts of the species' range.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Nurse Sharks are managed as part of the Large Coastal Species complex in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters of the United States.

The Colombian government is considering a ban on the G. cirratum fishery together with an extensive habitat protection campaign (Mejia et al. 2002).

The species was listed as Vulnerable in São Paulo State (Brazil) by participants at a workshop organized by the State Secretary of the Environment (SEMA/SP) using IUCN criteria. (São Paulo 1998), and later assessed as Vulnerable in Brazil by a commission of the Brazilian Society for the Study of Elasmobranchs (SBEEL) in 2002, also using IUCN Red List criteria. Its inclusion in the Official List of Endangered Animals in Brazil as a Vulnerable species was recommended to the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment in 2003.

Conservation measures should include:

Establishment of no fishing marine conservation units, encompassing reef formations, which include mating and breeding grounds; regulation of spear-fishing activity, both commercial and sporting, with restriction of capture; regulation of the marine ornamental fish trade, with restriction of capture; bycatch control, with mandatory release of live by-caught individuals; and, development and effective implementation of management plans (national and/or regional e.g., under the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks: IPOA-Sharks) in order to facilitate the conservation and sustainable management of all chondrichthyan species in the region. See Anon. (2004) for an update of progress made by nations in the range of G. cirratum.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
4. Education & awareness -> 4.1. Formal education
4. Education & awareness -> 4.2. Training
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.2. National level

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    

0. Root -> 100.1. OLD 1.1.1-Policy-base actions->Management plans->Development
1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Anonymous. 2004. Report on the implementation of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks (IPOA–Sharks). AC20 Inf. 5. Twentieth meeting of the CITES Animals Committee, Johannesburg (South Africa), 29 March–2 April 2004.

Camhi, M., Fowler, S., Musick, J. Bräutigam, A. and Fordham, S. 1998. Sharks and their relatives: ecology and conservation. Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission 20.

Carrier, J.C. 1991. Growth and aging: life history studies of the nurse shark. In: S.H. Gruber (ed.). Discovering sharks. pp: 68–69. American Littoral Society, Special Publication 14.

Carrier, J.C. and Luer, C.A. 1990. Growth rates in the nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum. Copeia 1990: 686–692.

Carrier, J.C., Pratt, H.L. and Martin, L.K. 1994. Group reproductive behavior in free-living nurse sharks, Ginglymostoma cirratum. Copeia 1993: 646–656.

Castro, A.L.F. 2000a. Ecologia populacional do Tubarão-lixa (Ginglymostoma cirratum) (Chondrichthyes: Ginglymostomatidae) na Reserva Biológica do Atol das Rocas, Brasil. M.S. Thesis, Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa.

Castro, A.L.F. and Rosa, R.S. 2005. Use of natural marks on population estimates of the nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, at Atol das Rocas Biological Reserve, Brazil. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72(2): 213–221.

Castro, J.I. 2000b. The biology of the nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, off the Florida east coast and the Bahama Islands. Environmental Biology of Fishes 58: 1–22.

Cervigón, F. and Alcalá, A. 1999. Los peces marinos de Venezuela. Vol. 5. Tiburones y Rayas. Fundación Museo del Mar.

Compagno, L.J.V. 1984. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 4. Sharks of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 125, Volume 4, Part 1.

Figueiredo, J.L. 1977. Manual de Peixes Marinhos do Sudeste do Brasil I. Introdução, Cações, raias e quimeras. São Paulo: Museu de Zoologia Universidade de São Paulo.

Gadig, O.B.F. 1994. Fauna de tubarões da costa Norte/Nordeste do Brasil (Chondrichthyes: Elasmobranchii). M.S. thesis. Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa.

Gasparini, J.L. and Floeter, S.R. 2001. The shore fishes of Trindade Island, western South Atlantic. Journal of Natural History 35: 1639-1656.

Grubbs, R.D., Chapman, D. and Pikitch, E. 2000. Preliminary investigation of diversity and abundance of the elasmobranch fauna at Glover's Reef Atoll, Belize. Wildlife Conservation Society, New York.

IUCN. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group. Specialist Group website. Available at:

Monzini, J. 2004. The Sharks of Bahia Las Minas (Panama, Colon Province). Masters Thesis, Brandeis University, SID Program, Waltham, USA. 110 pp.

Rio de Janeiro. 2000. Espécies ameaçadas de extinção no Município do Rio de Janeiro: Flora e fauna. Rio de Janeiro, Secretaria Municipal de Meio Ambiente.

Rocha, L.A. and Rosa, I.L. 2001. Baseline assessment of reef fish assemblages of Parcel Manuel Luiz Marine State Park, Maranhão, north-east Brazil. Journal of Fish Biology 58: 985-998.

Rosa, R.S. 1997. Espécies de Elasmobrânquios ameaçadas no Brasil. 7th Congresso Nordestino de Ecologia, I Reunião da Sociedade Brasileira para estudo dos Elasmobrânquios. Ilhéus, BA, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz. Pp. 111-114.

Rosa, R.S. 2002. Peixes. In: Lista Oficial da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçada de Extinção. Workshop, Fundação Biodiversitas, Belo Horizonte.

Rosa, R.S. and Menezes, N.A. 1996. Relação preliminar das espécies de peixes (Pisces, Elasmobranchii, Actinopterygii) ameaçadas no Brasil. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia 13(3): 647–667.

São Paulo. 1998. Fauna Ameaçada no Estado de São Paulo. Secretaria do Meio Ambiente. Série Documento Ambientais. São Paulo (contém o Decreto nº 42.838 de 4 de fevereiro de 1998).

Citation: Rosa, R.S., Castro, A.L.F., Furtado, M., Monzini, J. & Grubbs, R.D. 2006. Ginglymostoma cirratum. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2006: e.T60223A12325895. . Downloaded on 23 January 2017.
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