Nurse shark joins animal population at New England Aquarium

Aquarium has long history of caring for and studying sharks

Nurse shark “Cirri” swims in the New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank. CREDIT: Vanessa Kahn/New England Aquarium

BOSTON, MASS. (Nov. 8, 2023) – The New England Aquarium is welcoming a new nurse shark to its Caribbean coral reef exhibit, continuing a decades-long commitment of caring for and protecting shark species.


The young female shark, named “Cirri” by staff, moved into the 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank last week. The name Cirri was derived from the scientific name for nurse sharks, Ginglymostoma cirratum. The 3.5-foot, 22-pound shark joins Myrtle the green sea turtle, cownose rays, eels, and hundreds of colorful reef fish in the signature exhibit space. The Aquarium has a long history of caring for and studying sharks and welcomed the opportunity to introduce a large shark to its population to help educate guests about the species and conservation efforts.

“Nurse sharks are a spectacular species to highlight here at the New England Aquarium. They showcase some amazing adaptations that sharks use to navigate and thrive in reef environments and are a species we have studied extensively in both public aquaria and the wild for decades,” said Mike O’Neill, manager of the Giant Ocean Tank.

The Aquarium’s industry-leading animal care places a high priority on husbandry. Training efforts with the nurse shark focus on proper diet and vitamins, active swimming during feedings, and ease of routine medical care, from blood draws to weight checks. Guests to the Aquarium can view daily training sessions at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that include feedings in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Prior to her arrival at the Aquarium, the nurse shark spent more than four months acclimating at the Aquarium’s offsite facility in Quincy, MA, where Animal Care staff monitored her health and behavior and engaged the shark in training sessions.

“Target training not only allows us to manage Cirri’s diet and nutrition but is also key for acclimating her for any veterinary exams or handling she may need. Establishing these habits when she is young will set her up for success in the Giant Ocean Tank as she grows into a full-grown adult,” said Kristen Ulrich, an aquarist who oversaw the nurse shark’s care in Quincy.

A team of about 12 people helped move the nurse shark to Boston by truck in a 650-gallon transport tank, monitoring oxygen and pH levels throughout her journey.

The Aquarium uses a comprehensive strategy for managing its animal population, creating a care plan for every animal that spans its whole life. Before acquiring an animal, a committee ensures the exhibit space has the appropriate capacity along with the knowledge and resources the animal will need to thrive in the Aquarium’s care. The Aquarium worked with a trusted partner to source the juvenile nurse shark from the Florida Keys under the necessary and appropriate permitting from Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Nurse sharks can be found in tropical and subtropical coastal waters of the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific, often inhabiting reefs and resting on sandy bottoms. Listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, the nurse shark is impacted by habitat loss, overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

Scientists in the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium have been studying the mating and breeding habits of nurse sharks in the Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, for more than 30 years.

It has been 10 years since the Aquarium cared for a nurse shark at its home on Boston’s Central Wharf. “Bimini” lived in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) for nearly 10 years before being relocated to the New York Aquarium in 2013 when the New England Aquarium began an ambitious renovation project on the GOT.


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