In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Listed as Critically Endangered|
|Listing and Conservation Advices||
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Carcharias taurus, Grey Nurse Shark (East Coast population) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001br) [Listing Advice].
|Recovery Plan Decision||
Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans|
|Other EPBC Act Plans||
Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) (Department of the Environment, 2014or) [Recovery Plan].
|Policy Statements and Guidelines||
Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened fish. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.4
(Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011i) [Admin Guideline].
Marine bioregional plan for the Temperate East Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012aa) [Admin Guideline].
Code of conduct for diving with Grey Nurse Sharks (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2002) [Information Sheet].
Federal Register of
Determination that a distinct population of biological entitites is a species under section 517 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Grey Nurse Shark) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001a) [Legislative Instrument].
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (24/09/2001) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001d) [Legislative Instrument].
Documents and Websites
|State Listing Status||
|Non-statutory Listing Status||
|Scientific name||Carcharias taurus (east coast population) |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
NSW: At the species level, Carcharias taurus is listed as Critically Endangered under the Fisheries Management Act 1994.
Queensland: At the species level, Carcharias taurus is listed as listed as Endangered under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Tasmania: The prohibition on taking certain fish under the Fisheries (General and Fees) Regulations 2006 includes the Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population).
Victoria: At the species level, Carcharias taurus is listed as listed as Threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.
International: At the species level, Carcharias taurus is listed as Vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resourses (IUCN) Red List 2008.
This species became the world's first protected shark when the NSW Government declared it a protected species in 1984 under the Fisheries and Oyster Farms Act (Pollard et al. 1996).
The Grey Nurse Shark was listed as vulnerable on the EPBC Act in August 2000. This listing was based on declining population trends; the life history characteristics of the species; limited knowledge of their ecology and abundance; and the fact that Grey Nurse Sharks were still under pressure from some sectors of the Australian commercial and recreational fishing industries (Environment Australia 2002a).
In October 2001, the Grey Nurse Shark was listed as two separate populations (west and east coast populations) under the EPBC Act. Given the serious decline in numbers of the east coast population of Grey Nurse Sharks, this population is now listed as critically endangered. The size of the west coast population is unknown but considering the species life history characteristics and continuing impacts from fishing, this population remains listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act (Environment Australia 2002a).
Other common names: Sand Tiger Shark, Spotted Ragged-tooth Shark
In Australia, the Grey Nurse Shark is now restricted to two populations, one on the east coast from southern Queensland to southern NSW and the other around the south-west coast of Western Australia. The Grey Nurse Shark is now considered to be extinct in Victorian waters. It is believed that the east and west coast populations do not interact and research will probably confirm that the populations are genetically different (NSW Fisheries 2003).
The Grey Nurse Shark is one of four species belonging to the family Odontaspididae (Pollard et al. 1996). The species has a large, rather stout body and is coloured grey to grey-brown dorsally, with a paler off-white underbelly (Last & Stevens 1994). Reddish or brownish spots may occur on the caudal fin and posterior half of the body, particularly in juveniles (Last & Stevens 1994; Pollard et al. 1996). The species has a conical snout, long awl-like teeth in both jaws (with single lateral cusplets), similarly sized first and second dorsal fins and an asymmetrical caudal fin (Last & Stevens 1994; Pollard et al. 1996). Grey Nurse Sharks grow to at least 360 cm in length (Last & Stevens 1994). The Grey Nurse Shark is a slow, but strong, swimmer and is thought to be more active at night (Pollard et al. 1996).
The Grey Nurse Sharks in the Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve Video (DEWR 2007b) contains footage of this species in its natural environment.
The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) has been regularly reported from southern Queensland and around south-east Australia, although the species is uncommon in Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian waters, and has not been found in the Great Australian Bight. The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) has been recorded as far north as Cairns (Pogonoski et al. 2002; Stevens 1999). However, more recently Grey Nurse Shark distribution in Australia has generally been confined to coastal waters off southern Queensland and along the entire NSW coast (Environment Australia 2002a). The species may be a rare vagrant in the northern section of the Commonwealth south-east marine bioregion.
In NSW, aggregations of Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) can be found at reefs off the following locations: Byron Bay, Brooms Head, Solitary Islands, South West Rocks, Laurieton, Forster, Seal Rocks, Port Stephens, Sydney, Bateman's Bay, Narooma (Otway & Parker 2000) and Montague Island. An aggregation is considered to be five or more Grey Nurse Sharks present at the same site at the same time (Otway & Parker 2000). Known key aggregation sites for Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) in Queensland include sites off Moreton and Stradbroke Islands and Rainbow Beach. The above sites may play an important role in pupping and/or mating activities, as Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) form regular aggregations at these sites (Pollard et al. 1996).
Relatively little is known about the migratory habits of Grey Nurse Sharks in Australian waters. Evidence suggests migrational movement, probably in response to water temperatures, up and down the east coast. At certain times of the year, Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) aggregate according to sex. Male animals predominate in southern Queensland waters during July to October, while a high proportion (77.4%) of the catch from beach meshing operations off central NSW at this same time is composed of females (Reid & Krogh 1992).
Dive charter operators regularly see Grey Nurse Sharks at the same locations and these observations suggest that the species exhibits some degree of site fidelity (Pollard et al. 1996). This characteristic makes the species vulnerable to localised pressures in certain areas (Environment Australia 1997a).
The Grey Nurse Shark was originally broadly distributed around the world's main continents, primarily in subtropical to cool temperate coastal waters. They have been recorded from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans but are now restricted to waters off the east coast of the United States, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and Australia (Last & Stevens 1994; NSW Fisheries 2003).
Grey Nurse Shark populations have declined worldwide. In Japanese waters the population has declined to a point where they are no longer caught. In Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, fishers catch Grey Nurse Sharks close to shore. However, catches are declining. In the United States the species is protected from fishing and in South Africa their capture is being phased out (NSW Fisheries 2003).
NSW Fisheries (2003) conducted a distribution and abundance study on the Grey Nurse Shark from 1998 to 2001.
The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) total population is estimated to be between 1146 and 1662 individuals (Cardno Ecology Lab 2010). A previous estimate was 500 individuals consisting of 250 adults (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2001br).
The number of Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) observed varied greatly along the NSW coast during the 10 state-wide surveys conducted. The number of Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) in NSW could be as low as 292; this is the highest number of individuals observed during a single survey. There are now concerns that the population has fallen to such critically low numbers that individual animals are now failing to find mates and successfully reproduce. It should be noted when considering the accuracy of population estimates, Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) are not being caught by deep water fisheries (60+ metres), indicating that there is minimal chance of any Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) in deeper waters not being covered by the surveys (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2001br).
The numbers of Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) in Queensland have not been observed to be greater than 30 individuals at any given time.
The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) is no longer found at several sites where it was dominant during the 1950s and 1960s. These sites include Brush Island and Jervis Bay where, in the past (1950–60s), aggregations of 40+ could be observed (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2001br).
The east coast population of Grey Nurse Shark has undergone a very severe reduction in population size due to impacts such as fishing (commercial and recreational) and shark control activities (beach meshing program and drum lines). In NSW during the early 1950s, up to 36 Grey Nurse Sharks were meshed per year. By the 1980s, this number had decreased to three or less per year and over the last decade only three Grey Nurse Sharks have been caught in shark control nets. This indicates a decline of 90% over 40 years. This is against an increasing catch effort between the 1950s and the 1980s as more beaches were meshed in the beach meshing program. In Queensland, the same trend has been detected, with a decrease from 90 Grey Nurse Sharks captured between 1962 and 1972, to 21 Grey Nurse Sharks captured over the last decade. This indicates a decline in the order of 77% over 40 years. The Queensland Shark Control program has increased in effort since the 1960s with methods such as drum lining being adopted. The low capture rates of the past decade are likely to continue unless the population increases substantially in east coast waters (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2001br).
The NSW Fisheries distribution and abundance study has revealed an adult to juvenile ratio that is substantially biased towards adults in the east coast population of the Grey Nurse Shark. A comparison with the ratio that would be expected in a stable population indicates that there is a substantial level of 'unnatural' juvenile mortality. For example, in a survey where the maximum number of Grey Nurse Shark seen was 292, only 77 juveniles were observed (other surveys revealed similar adult/juvenile mortality ratios). The male to female ratio was 1:1. Modelling suggest that 83.5% of the population is not present, most probably due to juvenile mortality. This decline in juveniles is considered to be due to human induced pressures such as commercial and recreational fishing (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2001br).
In December 2002, ten Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) critical habitat areas were declared in NSW waters with associated regulations to control fishing and diving activities. The critical habitat sites are (NSW Fisheries 2003):
- Julian Rocks (Byron Bay)
- Fish Rock (South West Rocks)
- Green Island (South West Rocks)
- The Pinnacle (Forster)
- Big and Little Seal Rocks (south of Forster)
- Little Broughton Island (north of Port Stephens)
- Magic Point (Maroubra, Sydney)
- Bass Point (Shellharbour)
- Tollgate Islands (Batemans Bay)
- Montague Island (Narooma).
At these sites, restrictions were introduced to limit the impacts of fishing and diving on Grey Nurse Sharks. These include a ban on fishing with bait from anchored or moored vessels within 200 m, and a ban on commercial drop, drift and set line fishing within 1000 m of the site. Restrictions on scuba diving include no night diving in critical habitat sites as well as a ban on touching or harassing sharks and on the use of underwater scooters and electronic shark repelling devices.
Damage to critical habitat can lead to a fine of up to $220 000. Breaking fishing and diving rules in critical habitat sites has a maximum penalty of $11 000, with a penalty notice of $500 available for less serious breaches. If a Grey Nurse Shark is caught accidentally it must be returned to the water unharmed. If returned unharrmed then no offence is committed, but if the shark is harmed, fines of up to $220 000 apply (NSW Fisheries 2003).
Including, and in addition to the above sites, Environment Australia (2002a) has outlined the known habitat sites critical for the survival of Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population):
|Location||Site Name||Coordinates||Jurisdiction||Protection Status|
|Rainbow Beach||Wolf Rock||153º 12' 10'' E
25º 54' 20'' S
|Moreton Island||China Wall||153º 29' 00'' E
27º 05' 10'' S
|Queensland||Habitat Zone, Moreton Bay Marine Park|
|Moreton Island||Cherubs Cave||153º 28' 45'' E
27º 07' 35'' S
|Queensland||Habitat Zone, Moreton Bay Marine Park|
|Moreton Island||Henderson.s Rock||153º 28' 45'' E
27º 07' 50'' S
|Queensland||Habitat Zone, Moreton Bay Marine Park|
|Stradbroke Island||Flat Rock (Shark Alley)||153º 33' 00'' E
27º 23' 30'' S
|Queensland||Conservation Zone, Moreton Bay Marine Park|
|Byron Bay||Julian Rocks - Cod Hole||153º 37' 45'' E
28º 36' 40'' S
|Solitary Islands Marine Reserve||Pimpernel Rock||153º 23' 55'' E
29º 41' 55'' S
|Commonwealth||Sanctuary Zone (IUCN category 1a), Solitary Islands Marine Reserve|
|Solitary Islands||North Solitary Island (Anemone Bay)||153º 23' 25'' E
29º 55' 20'' S
|NSW||Habitat Protection Zone, Solitary Islands Marine Reserve|
|Solitary Islands||South Solitary Island (Manta Arch)||153º 16' 05'' E
30º 12' 10'' S
|NSW||Habitat Protection Zone, Solitary Islands Marine Reserve|
|South West Rocks||Green Island||153º 05' 30'' E
30º 54' 40'' S
|South West Rocks||Fish Rock||153º 06' 05'' E
30º 56' 25'' S
|NSW||Restrictions on spearfishing / drop line fisheries closure|
|Laurieton||Cod Grounds||152º 54' 30'' E
31º 40' 55'' S
|Forster||Pinnacle||152º 36' 00'' E
32º 13' 40'' S
|Seal Rocks||Big Seal||152º 33' 15'' E
32º 27' 50'' S
|Seal Rocks||Little Seal||152º 32' 55'' E
32º 28' 30'' S
|Port Stephens||Little Broughton Island||152º 20' 00'' E
32º 37' 05'' S
|Sydney||Maroubra - Magic Point||151º 15' 50'' E
33º 57' 20'' S
|Bateman's Bay||Tollgate Islands||150º 15' 45'' E
35º 44' 50'' S
|Narooma||Montague Island||150º 13' 40'' E
36º 14' 30'' S
Grey nurse sharks are found primarily in warm temperate (from subtropical to cool temperate) inshore waters around rocky reefs and islands, in or near deep sandy-bottomed gutters or rocky caves, and occasionally in the surf zone and shallow bays. They are often observed hovering motionless just above the seabed (Pollard et al. 1996). They have been recorded at varying depths down to 230 m on the continental shelf, but are most commonly found between 15–40 m (Otway & Parker 2000). They generally occur either alone or in small to medium sized groups, usually of fewer than 20 sharks (Pollard et al. 1996). When observed alone they are thought to be moving between aggregation sites (Environment Australia 2002).
Critical habitats and key aggregation sites exist adjacent to the region in New South Wales and southern Queensland state waters, as well as several in Commonwealth waters at the Cod Grounds and Solitary islands. These regular aggregation sites may play an important role in pupping and/or mating activities (Bansemer & Bennett 2008).
The Grey Nurse Shark has a relatively low growth rate. Males reach sexual maturity at 190–195 cm and 6–7 years of age, femals at 220–230 cm and 9–10 years of age (Last & Stevens 2009). The growth increment for ages 0–1 year is 25–30 cm, declining by around 5 cm every two years to a minimum of 5–10 cm/year (Branstetter & Musick 1994). The maximum length is about 318 cm for females and 257 cm for males (Branstetter & Musick 1994; Compagno 1984). This species grows to a maximum weight of at least 190 kg (Pepperell 1992).
The precise timing of mating and pupping in Australian waters is unknown. Many sharks have been observed at Pimpernel Rock, NSW, during the months of March and April with mating scars, ie. bite marks around the pectoral fins and head area (D. White n.d., pers. comm., cited in Otway & Parker 1999). In South Africa mating occurs between late October and the end of November, with pregnant females moving southwards each year during July and August to give birth in early spring, then returning northward. Once impregnated, the female stores the sperm while the ovaries produce eggs that move to the oviduct where they are fertilised (Marsh 1995). Not all migrating females are sexually active and generally only reproduce once every two years (Smith & Pollard 1999).
The reproductive norm for the Grey Nurse Shark includes oophagy and intra-uterine cannibalism which results in a maximum of two young per litter (one in each uterus). Embryos hatch into the uterus at about 55 mm long and, at lengths of around 10 cm, develop teeth and consume other embryos in the uterus. The single remaining embryo in each uterus then feeds on any unfertilised eggs as the female continues to ovulate. Gestation takes 9–12 months (Last & Stevens 1994).
At birth the Grey Nurse Shark pups measure on average 1 m in length (Last & Stevens 1994). In Australia it appears that Grey Nurse Sharks give birth at select pupping grounds. In July 2001, the first recorded birth of a Grey Nurse Shark was observed, one pup was born in the late morning at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay (N. Otway n.d., pers. comm., cited in Environment Australia 2002a).
A Grey Nurse Shark held in captivity at a Sydney aquarium lived for 13 years, and others have lived for over 16 years in captivity in South Africa (Govender et al. 1991). Passerotti and colleagues (2014) validated longevity of 34 and 40 years for males and females, respectively, in the northern Atlantic Ocean and south-west Indian Ocean. Aging using visual counts of vertebral growth bands may only be suitable for individuals that are up to 12 years of age (Passerotti et al. 2014).
The diet of the adult Grey Nurse Shark consists of a wide range of fish, other sharks and rays, squids, crabs and lobsters (Compagno 1984). In Australia it is likely that the Grey Nurse Shark diet consists of species such as pilchards (Genus: Sardinops), jewfish (Genus: Glaucosoma), tailor (Genus: Pomatomus), bonito (Genus: Sarda), moray eels (Family: Muraenidae), wrasses (Family: Labridae), sea mullet (Genus: Mugil), flatheads (Family: Platycephalidae), Yellowtail Kingfish (Seriola lalandi), small sharks, squid and crustaceans (N. Otway n.d., pers. comm., cited in Environment Australia 2002a). Observations also suggest that schools of Grey Nurse Sharks can feed cooperatively by concentrating schooling prey before feeding on them (Compagno 1984; Ireland 1984). It is important to note that many of the species that comprise the Grey Nurse Shark diet are also harvested by commercial, recreational and spearfishing interests (Environment Australia 2002a).
The Grey Nurse Shark generally occurs as solitary individuals or in small schools. Larger aggregations of individuals may occur for courtship and mating (Compagno 1984).
The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) migrates within its range, making seasonal north–south movements to form aggregations at critical habitat sites, thought to be related to breeding (Bansemer & Bennett 2008). At certain times of the year, it is thought that the species aggregates according to sex. A northerly migration to the Capricorn channel off Yeppoon of mature males has been observed over autumn–winter. Males predominate in southern Queensland waters during July and October, while a high proportion (77.4 percent) of the catch from bather protection programs off central New South Wales during the same period is of females (Reid & Krogh 1992). Female are also known to head south over summer and migrate north in winter to meet males for reproduction along the east coast. Immature and mature male grey nurse sharks, and immature female are known to migrate to southern New South Wales.
Dive charter operators regularly see Grey Nurse Sharks at the same locations and these observations suggest that the species exhibits some degree of site fidelity (Pollard et al. 1996). This characteristic makes the species vulnerable to localised pressures in certain areas (Environment Australia 1997a).
Although currently protected in most states, Grey Nurse Sharks have been fished commercially in the past. The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) was the second most commonly caught shark after the whaler shark around Port Stephens in the 1920s (Roughley 1955). The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) was fished by hook and line in and around Botany Bay as early as the 1850s, to provide an excellent quality oil for burning in lamps (Grant 1987). Grey Nurse Sharks were also utilised for their fins and for the high quality leather that could be produced from their skin (Roughley 1955). Grey Nurse Shark meat has been utilised fresh, frozen, smoked, dried and salted for human consumption (Compagno 1984).
In spite of legislative protection, Grey Nurse Sharks are still under threat from incidental catch in some commercial fisheries. In Australia they are primarily caught by demersal nets, droplines, and other line fishing gear (Pollard et al. 1996). Recent anecdotal information indicates that Grey Nurse Sharks have been incidentally caught on bottom setlines targeting Wobbegong Sharks (Otway & Parker 2000). Professional fishers once avoided the rocky habitats where Grey Nurse Sharks congregate but with improved technology (such as GPS) they are able to navigate more accurately and fish closer to these areas. There are very few records of Grey Nurse Sharks being caught in Commonwealth managed fisheries (Environment Australia 2002a).
The extent of the impact that commercial fisheries currently have on Grey Nurse Sharks needs to be documented. Not all industry participants share the perception that bycatch levels of Grey Nurse Sharks are a threat to their populations. Views may differ because the recording and recognition of Grey Nurse Sharks may be poor, or because interactions are now so infrequent due to population decline. It is necessary to identify which fisheries are impacting on Grey Nurse Sharks and to quantify the level of their bycatch. This could initially be assessed by ensuring that fishery logbooks allow for the recording of Grey Nurse Shark interactions, that fishers are educated on Grey Nurse Sharks and that observer programs are introduced to state commercial fisheries (Environment Australia 2002a).
Commercial fisheries that impact or potentially impact on Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) include (Environment Australia 2002a):
|NSW||Ocean Trap and Line|
|NSW||Ocean Fish Trawl|
|NSW||Ocean Prawn Trawl|
|Queensland||East Coast Trawl|
|Queensland||Queensland Line Fisheries|
In addition to bycatch the Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) is threatened by fishing practices. Hook wounds to Grey Nurse Sharks can puncture the stomach, pericardial cavity, and oesophagus causing infections and death. A hooked shark, upon release, may swim away seemingly unharmed, only to die several days later from internal bleeding or peritonitis. The stress of capture may cause changes in the physiology of a shark including bradycardia, blood acidosis, hyperglycaemia and muscle rigidity (Environment Australia 2002a).
As late as the 1980s, Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) were perceived by the public as man-eaters, mainly due to their fierce appearance (Taronga Zoo 1996). This misunderstanding led to many Grey Nurse Sharks being killed in the 1950s and 1960s by the intensive fishing efforts of spearfishers using powerheads (Ireland 1984). The Grey Nurse Shark, with its dubious reputation as a threat to humans, was an easy target and many articles recount the desire of the spearfishers to rid the coast of this threat (Cropp 1964a; Ley 1964; Lupton 1962; Taylor & Cropp 1962).
Today, due to the Grey Nurse Shark's protected status in NSW since 1984, and an increase in public awareness, there are very few reports of divers killing these sharks (Pollard et al. 1996). In fact, many spearfishers and divers have been involved in conservation activities including the protection of Grey Nurse Sharks and survey work on the species (Environment Australia 2002a).
Grey Nurse Sharks are known to be poor fighters and are no longer favoured by gamefishers in comparison to other sharks (Bureau of Resource Sciences 1996). However, during the two decades from 1961 to 1980, 405 Grey Nurse Sharks were recorded as being taken by game fishing clubs on the NSW coast, from Bermagui northwards along some 460 km of coastline (Pepperell 1992). A decline was detected in the proportion of Grey Nurse Sharks caught by gamefishers in the 1960s and 1970s (Environment Australia 1997a), and recreational gamefishers voluntarily banned Grey Nurse Shark captures in 1979 (Marsh 1995).
Sportfishers range from individuals to groups fishing in middle sized boats and charter boats. The extent of the impact that incidental catch by sportfishers has on Grey Nurse Sharks is currently unknown. Most recreational fishers see it as a minimal problem, but it is necessary to assess the level of incidental catch, particularly of juvenile sharks, by these fishers. Recreational fishers that line fish with baited hooks in known aggregation areas are likely to hook a Grey Nurse Shark (Environment Australia 2002a).
There have been various reports of recreational fishers catching Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population). Aggregation sites such as Fish Rock off South West Rocks and the Pinnacle at Forster are often under pressure from recreational fishing. In July 2001, scuba divers observed that over 50% of the Grey Nurse Sharks at Fish Rock (off South West Rocks, NSW) had hooks and lines trailing from their mouths (D. Harasti n.d., pers. comm., cited in Environment Australia 2002a). It is believed that the hooks and line were from recreational fishing gear. Whilst the latter observations are based on individuals that survive these interactions, it is not known how many die as a result of these interactions. Recreational fishers have been observed fishing on top of the Grey Nurse Shark gutters at Fish Rock and divers have actually observed Grey Nurse Sharks taking the baited hooks of recreational fishers. Other sites where recreational fishers have been observed catching Grey Nurse Sharks include the Cod Grounds off Laurieton, Pimpernel Rock in the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve, and Montague Island off Narooma (Environment Australia 2002a).
Autopsies have been carried out on 10 Grey Nurse Sharks that have been accidentally caught or killed. Six of these sharks had hooks inside of them. As these hooks were not visible upon the initial, external examination, this suggests that the number of Grey Nurse Sharks with embedded hooks seen during the underwater surveys is probably a significant underestimate of the total number of Grey Nurse Sharks potentially being injured by fish hooks (NSW Fisheries 2003; Otway & Parker 2000).
The incidental catch by recreational fishers is expected to have been high on the east coast in the past given the estimates of the low numbers now present. It has been hypothesised that recreational fishers may be responsible for higher levels of Grey Nurse Shark mortality than previously realised. The NSW Fisheries (2003) Grey Nurse Shark surveys have found that the observed numbers of juveniles is much lower than expected indicating that this problem may be continuing. It is suspected that recreational fishers often kill juvenile Grey Nurse Sharks without realising the species' identity (Environment Australia 2002a).
The high market value for shark fins is leading to a level of catch of sharks worldwide that may be unsustainable. As such, the practice of shark finning, where the fins are removed and the carcass discarded, poses a threat to Grey Nurse Sharks. There are a number of reliable reports from NSW divers of sightings of Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) that have survived having their fins cut off (Environment Australia 2002a).
Shark finning has been banned in NSW. It is prohibited in all NSW waters to take and land any shark species mutilated in any manner other than by heading, gutting or removing gills, or for any boat in all NSW waters to possess any detached shark fins on board. An interim ban on the at sea finning of sharks has been implemented in all Commonwealth tuna long line fisheries (Environment Australia 2002a).
There are however commercial fisheries in Australia that take shark fins as by product. Shark finning is poorly documented in Australian fisheries and several fisheries in Australia target sharks. Approximately 92 tonnes of dried shark fin was exported from Australian fisheries in 199899, valued at about $5.5 million. In 199899, approximately 7700 tonnes of landed shark catch was reported from target shark fisheries. It is estimated that 55.6 tonnes of the 92 tonnes of export dried shark fin in 199899 were derived from target and non-target shark fisheries where the trunk is retained. The majority of this shark fin is from the Southern Shark Fishery, managed by the Commonwealth and from the Western Australia's target shark fisheries (DAFF 2001).
Shark Control Activities
Meshing of sharks as a protective measure for swimmers and surfers was introduced to NSW beaches in 1937 and to Queensland beaches in 1962 (Krogh & Reid 1996; Paterson 1990).
In NSW shark nets are usually 150 m long and 6m high with a mesh size of 5060 cm (Krogh 1994). The nets are set parallel to the shore in around 1015 m water depth with the bottom of the net resting on the ocean floor and the top supported by a series of floats (Krogh 1994). The idea of shark nets is not to stop sharks coming in to the beaches, but to intercept and catch them on their regular feeding and territorial runs (Eckersley 1996). There are currently a total of 49 meshed beaches along approximately 200 km of coastline between Newcastle and Wollongong in NSW. On average, approximately 4.2 km of mesh net protect the beaches on any given day. The only known aggregation site in NSW in close proximity to protective beach meshing nets is Maroubra in Sydney (Environment Australia 2002a).
In NSW during the early 1950s, up to 34 Grey Nurse Sharks were meshed each year (Krogh & Reid 1996; Pollard et al. 1996). By the 1980s, this number had decreased to a maximum of three or less per year (Pollard et al. 1996), and over the last decade only three Grey Nurse Sharks have been caught in the shark nets (D. Reid. n.d. unpublished data, cited in Environment Australia 2002a).
In Queensland, a mixture of baited drumlines and mesh nets are used. Drumlines consist of a marker buoy and float anchored to the bottom supporting a steel chain and baited hook. There are indications that drumlines are more selective than protective shark meshing nets as they target those species of greatest threat to humans (Department of Primary Industries 1992), while providing similar levels of protection as nets. The disadvantage with the drumlines is that they can move in heavy seas (Department of Primary Industries 1992) and are known to catch other threatened species such as Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) and whales (Department of Primary Industries 1998). In some situations, drum lines catch as many sharks (if not more) as nets, but the species composition of sharks can vary between the two methods (Department of Primary Industries 1998).
In Queensland, a similar downward trend as NSW has been detected, with a decrease from 90 Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) captured between 19621972, to 21 Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) captured between 19902000. Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) are most commonly caught from October to December in the Queensland shark control program (G. McPherson n.d., pers. comm., cited in Environment Australia 2002a).
While the protective beach meshing program in Queensland and NSW has been responsible for captures of numerous Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) in the past, the extremely low capture rates in recent years will be likely to continue until the population increases substantially in the coastal waters of eastern Australia (Otway & Parker 2000).
It is NSW Fisheries' and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries' Shark Control Program policy that, where possible, all Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) caught in these shark nets are transported away from the beaches and released alive. In NSW, released sharks will be tagged to assist with scientific studies of population size, growth rates and migratory movements. In NSW, Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) that die in the nets are to be autopsied and in Queensland they are measured, sexed and their stomach contents examined.
Ecotourism activities relevant to the Grey Nurse Shark include scuba diving and shark viewing operations. Interactions between snorkel and scuba divers and Grey Nurse Sharks were once relatively common. However, these interactions are now rare (Pollard et al. 1996). During the 1950s, schools of 3050 Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) could be seen at almost every reef and island along the NSW coast, but during a week long trip to film the species in 1973, only 11 sharks were found (Environment Australia 1997a). In recent times, interactions between divers and packs of 3050 Grey Nurse Sharks are relatively rare (Otway & Parker 2000; Pollard et al. 1996).
The Grey Nurse Shark has become a big attraction to scuba divers and increasing pressure has been placed on operators to take divers to places where they can encounter these sharks (Otway & Parker 2000). It is possible that poorly managed shark viewing operations at popular sites may deter site-attached populations from residing in the area. There have been reports from Seal Rocks, NSW, of scuba divers disturbing Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population), either accidentally or deliberately (Pollard et al. 1996).
If divers continue to keep their distance whilst diving with these sharks it is unlikely that scuba diving per se will have any detrimental effects on the sharks' survival (Otway & Parker 2000). Divers are often in the best situations to observe Grey Nurse Sharks and show genuine interest in surveys, education and conservation of the species. Regular viewing trips, when properly managed, offer a good opportunity for data collection on these and other sharks (Bruce 1995).
While ecotourism is not currently perceived as a major threat to the Grey Nurse Shark, growth in this industry is expected and preventative actions taken now may reduce any impacts in the future. These actions may include a range of options such as seasonal closures of these activities in marine protected areas, or the development and uptake of a code of conduct for commercial operators and dive clubs (Environment Australia 2002a).
Shark Deterrent Devices
Sharks show the greatest sensitivity to electrical stimuli in the animal kingdom. Further information is needed on the effect of shark deterrent devices on Grey Nurse Sharks. Devices such as the 'Shark Pod' (or Protective Oceanic Device) emit an electrical field that repels sharks. The Shark Pod repels sharks at close quarters by creating an electrical field around the scuba diver that totally disrupts the shark's ampullae of Lorenzini. The ampullae of Lorenzini are the natural electrical detectors situated along a shark's face that are used to detect minute electronic signals emitted by potential prey (Taylor 1997). It is not known what sort of effect these types of shark deterrent devices may have on Grey Nurse Sharks.
There is a report of a diver using a Shark Pod device in the shark gutter at the Tollgate Islands, off Batemans Bay, NSW (N. Otway n.d., pers. comm., cited in Environment Australia 2002a). The Grey Nurse Sharks were disturbed by the shark deterrent device and left the gutter that they normally inhabited. These Grey Nurse Sharks did not return until several days later. This type of impact needs to be prevented, and shark deterrent devices should not be used at known Grey Nurse Shark aggregation sites.
Grey Nurse Sharks are a good species for captive display due to their size, slow movement, relatively docile nature and slow metabolic rate. They are popular with the public due to their size and fierce appearance. As early as the 1950s and 1960s Grey Nurse Sharks that were retrieved alive would sometimes be sold to aquariums for display purposes (Edwards 1997; Fisheries Department of Western Australia 1996).
There are 30 Grey Nurse Sharks in commercial aquaria in Australia. These aquaria are also involved in Grey Nurse Shark captive breeding programs, survey work and educational programs. Six grey nurse pups have been born at Underwater World, Queensland. Aquariums have been actively involved in research activities on Grey Nurse Sharks including behavioural and breeding studies (Environment Australia 2002a).
Commercial aquaria holdings of Grey Nurse Sharks in Australia include (Environment Australia 2002a):
|Underwater World, Queensland||3||4||7|
|Underwater World, Western Australia||1||7||8|
|Melbourne Aquarium, Victoria||1||2||3|
|Sydney Aquarium, NSW||2||3||5|
|Manly Oceanworld, NSW||3||4||7|
The Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia (Environment Australia 2002a) suggest the following recovery objectives:
- Reduce the impact of commercial fishing on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Reduce the impact of recreational fishing on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Reduce the impact of shark finning on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Reduce the impact of shark control activities on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Manage the impact of ecotourism on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Eliminate the impact of aquaria on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Identify and establish conservation areas to protect Grey Nurse Sharks from threatening activities such as commercial and recreational fishing.
- Develop research programs to assist conservation of Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Develop population models to assess Grey Nurse Shark populations and monitor their recovery.
- Promote community education about Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Develop a quantitative framework to assess the recovery of the species.
To fulfil the specific objectives of this plan, the following actions are designed to identify and reduce threats to grey nurse sharks, to determine levels of mortality and to reduce that mortality. The assessment of these actions against the criteria for success is essential to measure the recovery of Grey Nurse Sharks. These actions and recovery criteria (Environment Australia 2002a) are:
- Assess commercial and recreational fisheries data to determine current level of Grey Nurse Shark bycatch
- Modify fisheries logbooks to record Grey Nurse Shark catch and biological data (e.g. size, sex, etc.)
- Ensure existing fishery observer programs record interactions with Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Quantify and reduce levels of Grey Nurse Shark take in shark control activities.
- Establish community based programs to identify and monitor key sites for Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Develop appropriate mechanisms to protect key sites.
- Establish tag and release programs for Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Prevent unregulated shark finning of Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Assess the population size and status of Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Collect biological and genetic information on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Minimise the impacts of dive ecotourism activities and aquarium display on Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Develop a community education strategy for Grey Nurse Sharks.
- Reassess the conservation status of the Grey Nurse Shark.
The National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (Shark Plan) (Shark Advisory Group & M. Lack 2004) details the following objectives specific for species identified in the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (FAO 2009), which includes the Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population):
- Ensure that shark catches from target and non-target fisheries are sustainable.
- Assess threats to shark populations, determine and protect critical habitats and implement harvesting strategies consistent with the principles of biological sustainability and rational long-term economic use.
- Identify and provide special attention, in particular, to vulnerable or threatened sharks.
- Improve and develop frameworks for establishing and coordinating effective consultation involving all stakeholders in research, management and educational initiatives within and between states.
- Minimise unutilised incidental catches of sharks.
- Contribute to the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function.
- Minimise waste and discards from shark catches.
Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.
The Grey Nurse Shark (east coast population) has been identified as a conservation value in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region. See Schedule 2 of the Temperate East Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012aa) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for Grey Nurse Shark in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region and may provide additional relevant information. Go to the conservation values atlas to view the locations of these Biologically Important Areas. The "species group report card - sharks" for the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region provides additional information.
The Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia (Environment Australia 2002a) and the Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes (Pogonoski et al. 2002) provide guides to the conservation and management strategies for the Grey Nurse Shark.
NSW Fisheries and Environment Australia, in consultation with the dive industry, have developed the Code of conduct for diving with Grey Nurse Sharks (DEH 2002).
The Investigations of Grey Nurse Shark in Queensland to fulfil actions under the Recovery Plan for Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia regarding impact of divers, and establishment of a photographic database to improve knowledge of migratory movements, localised site movements and estimation of bycatch (Bennett & Bansemer 2004) aims to provide information on movements of Grey Nurse Sharks over various spatial scales to better understand its biology and population status, both of which will assist in the effective management of the species. This will be achieved through non-invasive mark-recapture models and behavioural experiments aimed to determine the extent of which divers can impact on Grey Nurse Shark behaviour.
Designing protected areas for grey nurse sharks off eastern Australia (Bruce et al. 2005a) shows the potential for acoustic monitoring to provide important information on the time spent by Grey Nurse Sharks at aggregation sites, their daily behaviour at these sites and their seasonal movement patterns.
Identifying movements and habitats of white sharks and grey nurse sharks (Bruce et al. 2005b) discusses an opportunity to gain critical information on swimming depth (including the potential use of deep-water) and long-distance movements of Grey Nurse Sharks (east coast population) through the use of archival tags.
The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.
|Threat Class||Threatening Species||References|
|Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Illegal take||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Carcharias taurus, Grey Nurse Shark (East Coast population) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001br) [Listing Advice].|
|Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Mortality due to capture, entanglement/drowning in nets and fishing lines||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Carcharias taurus, Grey Nurse Shark (East Coast population) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001br) [Listing Advice].|
|Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Overfishing, competition with fishing operations and overfishing of prey fishing||Commonwealth Listing Advice on Carcharias taurus, Grey Nurse Shark (East Coast population) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001br) [Listing Advice].|
|Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Recreational Activities:Environemental pressures due to ecotourism|
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Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEWR) (2007b). Grey Nurse Sharks in the Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve - Videos. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/publications/grey-nurse-shark-videos.html. [Accessed: 12-May-2009].
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Environment Australia (2002a). Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/publications/grey-nurse-plan/index.html.
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Pepperell, J.G. (1992). Trends in the distribution, species composition and size of sharks caught by gamefish anglers off south-eastern Australia, 1961-90. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 43:213-225.
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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Carcharias taurus (east coast population) in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 30 Aug 2014 18:34:25 +1000.