Historically, due to their fierce appearance and being mistaken for other sharks that pose a danger to humans, large numbers of Grey Nurse Sharks were killed by recreational spear and line fishers and in shark control programs, particularly in south-eastern Australia. Major threats to the recovery of Grey Nurse Sharks include:
- incidental capture by commercial and recreational fisheries;
- shark control activities;
- shark finning; and
The life history characteristics of Grey Nurse Sharks have left the remaining populations vulnerable to any small scale changes, and populations in NSW & Qld waters have not recovered since their protection in 1984. The total number of individuals on the East Coast of Australia is low and estimated to be less than 500 individuals. The number of Grey Nurse Sharks in NSW could be as low as 292; the highest number of individuals observed during a single survey period at all sites where these sharks are currently known to occur in NSW. There are concerns that this population has fallen to such critically low numbers that individual animals are now failing to find mates and successfully reproduce. In addition, fishing activity, particularly recreational line fishing are thought to be impacting severely on the existing Grey Nurse Shark population.
On 1 December 2002, NSW Fisheries introduced new regulations to protect the grey nurse shark. These regulations include the establishment of ten grey nurse shark critical habitat sites. These newly established critical habitat areas can be found at:
- Julian Rocks - Byron Bay
- Fish Rock & Green Island - South West Rocks
- The Pinnacle - Forster
- Big & Little Seal Rocks - Seal Rocks
- Little Broughton Island - Port Stephens
- Magic Point - Maroubra
- Bass Point - Shellharbour
- Tollgate Islands - Batemans Bay
- Montague Island - Narooma
New fishing and diving rules apply within the critical habitat areas and buffer zones. These rules will minimise harmful activities to the grey nurse. Critical habitat areas are 200 metres out from the relevant natural feature, with an additional 800 - metre buffer zone.
The rules for Scuba diving within the 200 metre critical habitats are:
- No scuba diving between sunset and sunrise;
- No blocking entrances to caves or gutters when the sharks are there;
- No feeding or touching the sharks;
- No chasing or harassing the sharks;
- No electronic shark repelling devices; and
- No underwater scooters.
You can find out more about the NSW regulations and critical habitat sites by visiting the NSW Fisheries Grey Nurse Shark Website.