Sunday, 27 April 2014 03:08

Grey Nurse Sharks - Conservation Status & Protection Measures

The Grey Nurse Shark, Carcharias taurus became the first protected shark in the world when the NSW Government declared it a protected species in 1984 (Pollard et al. 1996). It is now listed as Endangered under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994. Grey Nurse Sharks are protected under fisheries legislation in New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland and is listed as vulnerable globally on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species 2000.

Recently, the listing of the Grey Nurse Shark on Part 13 of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has been revised to reflect two distinct populations. The revised listing is as follows:

  • The east coast population of Grey Nurse Shark is listed as 'Critically Endangered'.
  • The west coast population of Grey Nurse Shark is listed as 'Vulnerable'.

The listing of the east coast population as critically endangered illustrates that this population is one of Australia's most threatened marine species. Management actions need to be taken urgently to ensure that this population of GNS does not end up on the 'extinct' species list. As a result of the east coast population being critically endangered, NSW Fisheries declared 10 critical habitats with new regulations to minimise fishing interactions coming into effect on 1 December 2002.

NSW Fisheries has commenced a tagging program on the east coast population of grey nurse sharks. To date, NSW Fisheries have tagged sharks at various locations along the NSW coast with 3 digit cattle tags that can be found in both dorsal fins. Several sharks have also been tagged in Queensland waters by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Seaworld. In NSW the tags are white and in Queensland the tags are blue. This tagging program will assist scientists understand the migrational movements of the Grey Nurse Shark and provide a better understanding of population numbers.


A Grey Nurse Shark "Hotline" has been established so that divers and fishers can report any tagged sharks they encounter. Tagged sharks will display three digit number tags on both dorsal fins. The Hotline number in NSW is 02 4916 3888 and is a 24 hour automated message taking service. To ensure this project is successful, NSW Fisheries are depending on divers and fishers to record any observations of tagged Grey Nurse Sharks. If you see a grey nurse shark in Queensland, please call Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on 1300 360 898. It is vital that divers record and report any observations of tagged sharks.

The Commonwealth National Recovery Plan for Grey Nurse Shark identifies management actions that need to be taken to reduce human induced impacts on the species. The national Recovery Plan for Grey Nurse Sharks was released by the Commonwealth Government on June 28th 2002 and is a detailed document that provides further recommendations to help protect the grey nurse shark.The Recovery Plan is available from the Environment Australia Coasts and Oceans website by visiting the Marine Species Section.

For further information on the Grey Nurse Shark and the Commonwealth Recovery Plan please visit the Environment Australia Shark Website.

The Story of Neptune the Grey Nurse Shark

On 29/09/96, Sea World in Queensland became the home to Neptune the Grey Nurse Shark. Neptune was a male grey nurse shark who had been caught by a commercial fisher and was handed over to Sea World to care and look after him. For approximately 3 years Neptune swam happily around the Sea World Aquarium with several other grey nurse sharks.

On 20/8/99 it was time for Sea World to release Neptune back into the wild as part of their tag and release program. Neptune was fitted with a cattle tag with a 3 digit number through his first dorsal fin. He was released back into the wild at Flat Rock located off Stradbroke Island near Brisbane. Two other aquarium grey nurse sharks with cattle tags were also released with Neptune at the same time. That means Neptune's friends could still be out there swimming around!

On Friday 14/6/02, Neptune was re-sighted for the first time since his release. For three years he had not been sighted in the wild - it unknown where Neptune has been during this three year period! Neptune was discovered by two scuba divers 'hanging out' with approximately 15 other grey nurse sharks in the shark gutter at the southern part of Fish Rock, located near SW Rocks on the New South Wales North Coast. Two photo's of Neptune were taken, note the tag in the first dorsal fin and the 3 digit tag number.

This re-sighting of Neptune has provided scientists with valuable information. They now have the first real evidence that the sharks migrate between Queensland and New South Wales waters. It also indicates that sharks that have been held in captivity can survive when released back into the wild.

A tagging program has just commenced on the east coast of Australia for grey nurse sharks. If your out diving or fishing and you come across a tagged grey nurse shark, please record the details of the shark including size, sex and tag number and contact the Grey Nurse Shark hotline on 02 4916 3888.