Meet Gladys Porter Zoo’s newest residents: nurse sharks

Local News

One of the two nurse sharks at the Gladys Porter Zoo. (KVEO)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) – Two nurse sharks are now calling the Gulf of Mexico Deep Water tank at the Gladys Porter Zoo home after being welcomed in January.  

Unlike their predatory counterparts, the nurse sharks look less menacing and have a cat-like temperament, spending most of their time calmly gliding along the ocean floor.  

Senior Aquarist Dan Goggin oversees the Russell Aquatic Ecology Center at the GPZ, and he ensures the health of the new sharks and all the other animals.  

“They are bottom-dwelling sharks, they’re not the kind you see in movies or TV shows,” explained Goggin. 

Interview with Senior Aquarist, Dan Goggin. (KVEO)

The sharks are nocturnal and feed on castrations, mollusks and small fish that are buried in the sand added Goggin.  

The sharks have an organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini that helps them detect creatures beneath the sand.

“That works like a metal detector,” said Goggin. “They’ll suck up the sand with the animal and it’s partially where they get their name from, nurse sharks because it looks like they’re nursing on the sand.” 

In the wild, they are social amongst their own kind, often seen in groups and sleeping on top of each other.  

During KVEO’s time watching the two sharks, they constantly rubbed up against each other and seemed to be friendly but shy.  

Both new Deep Water tank residents are males, estimated to be five to 6 years old, and can grow up to 13 feet long. Currently, they are five feet long and are the largest species housed at the zoo aquarium.  

The sharks made their way down to the GPZ from the Mississippi Aquarium in a box track that was made into a mobile aquarium.  

“It’s a long trip because you’re constantly listening for things, you’re checking the systems, you’re checking the animals, making sure everything’s okay,” said Goggin.  

Nurse sharks are known to live along all U.S. coast lines, including along the Gulf of Mexico.  

While this species of shark is not endangered, there are areas where they are seen less of, and because of their bottom-dwelling sedentary nature, they are susceptible to human disturbance.  

“People like to come up to them because they’re just sitting on the bottom, and sometimes people will pick them up,” said Goggin.  

Though they do not seem aggressive, like any other animal, they will defend themselves when harassed.  

“They’re impressive animals, we love to have them here at the zoo,” said Goggin.  

The zoo is asking the public to help name the sharks. The options are Oscar, Fred, Silver, Hercules, Poseidon, Butch, and Sundance. You can vote here

You can now visit the sharks during the GPZ’s new extended hours.  

They write in a press release: 

“From March 5th to March 13th, Zoo hours will be from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and from March 14th to April 4th, the Zoo will extend its weekend hours to 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

The Zoo will still have limited capacity so reservations are recommended for all guests, including, Gladys Porter Zoo Members.  We will accept walk-ups as long as the time slot is not sold out.  If the slot is full, guests will have to wait a few minutes until the next time slot, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.  

 Safety measures that were implemented when the Zoo re-opened on June 8th will remain in place. To limit the spread of COVID-19, facial coverings are required upon entry for guests ages 6 and up. They are also required when inside buildings and within 6 feet of other guests or staff. Tickets can be purchased online to limit contact at the gates. A one-way route around the Zoo is still in effect to better allow for social distancing.” 

Gladys Porter Zoo

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