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Swimming with the sharks
At Compass Cay Marina in the Exumas, Bahamas the Rolle family has turned the presence of nurse sharks into a feature of their private island. Anyone who has been to the Bahamas outer islands knows that nurse sharks are a welcome and majestic site. They have a habit of making themselves at home around fish cleaning stations in marinas and under boats. Compass Cay’s nurse sharks are fed daily at the marina fish cleaning station and the Rolles know them all by name. Given the crystal clear water of the Exumas and the fact that nurse sharks are generally peaceful and perceived as a non-threatening to humans, it is customary to swim with the sharks at Compass.
Although there are documented instance of unprovoked attacks by nurse sharks on humans, most incidents occur when divers or swimmers try to interfere with them. The two incidents we are aware of were due to some tailgrabbing – the worst consequence of which was the distillation of some healthy respect.
According to wikipedia nurse sharks or Ginglymostoma cirratum can reach a length of 4.3m (14ft) and a weight of 330kg (730lb) and are a common inshore bottom-dwelling shark. They are found in tropical and subtropical waters on the continental and insular shelves of the Western and Eastern Atlantic and around the islands of the Caribbean. Although they are frequently found at depths of one meter or less, they may occur down to 75m (246ft).
According to National Geographic, the origin of the name “nurse shark” is unknown. It may come from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, or it may come from an archaic word, nusse, meaning cat shark. A more plausible theory is that derives from the Old English word for sea-floor shark, which is hurse.
Nurse sharks are nocturnal, spending the day in large inactive groups of up to 40 individuals hidden under submerged ledges or in crevices. They seem to prefer specific resting sites and will return to them each day after the night’s hunting. By night, the sharks are largely solitary and spend most of their time rifling through the bottom sediments in search of food. Their diet consists primarily of crustaceans, molluscs, tinicates, sea snakes, fish and stingrays.
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