Endangered Shark Washes Up Dead 3 Months After a Colony Vanished

A fourth endangered sharks has been found washed up dead on beaches in a small coastal town in Australia. This follows the disappearance of a colony of gray nurse sharks 60 miles north.

The gray nurse sharks were found around Blacksmiths Beach, in the Newcastle area of New South Wales.

The fourth and most recent shark found in a 12-month period had a hook latched into its gut and 6 to 7 feet of wire coming out of its mouth, according to Yahoo News Australia.

grey nurse shark
Stock image of a gray nurse shark. Four gray nurse sharks have washed up dead in Australia over the past year. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Gray nurse sharks, also known as ragged-tooth sharks or sand tiger sharks, usually reside near the sandy seafloor between 30 feet to 750 feet deep. They are known as "labradors of the sea" because of their calm nature.

They are one of the most endangered species of shark, and are classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list. They are protected under the Fisheries Legislation in New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.

It's hard to estimate the number of gray nurse sharks in the local area because they migrate along the eastern Australian coast and spend varying amounts of time aggregating at offshore rocky reefs at numerous locations.

"A recent CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] report has indicated that the east Australian gray nurse shark population comprises approximately 1,000 to 3,000 adult animals and is why the species is listed as critically endangered in this region," Hilary Longhurst, a Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Fisheries spokesperson, told Newsweek.

The previous three dead gray nurse sharks were all found in October 2021, all within a few miles of each other.

According to Longhurst, these deaths aren't the work of somebody deliberately killing the rare species, rather just a poor stroke of luck for the sharks.

"There is no evidence that gray nurse sharks were being deliberately targeted, and it is very likely that they were bycatch," said Longhurst.

Their biggest threats are mostly human-caused. Many of the sharks are killed as bycatch in driftnets, and well as fished by recreational fishers. Due to the fact that gray nurse sharks mature sexually later than other species and have a low rate of reproduction, their population grows very slowly, making them further at risk from these threats.

It's thought that humans are putting pressure on the species from an unexpected angle: by trying to take pictures of them for social media.

Yahoo News Australia reported that a previous colony of the gray nurse sharks at Seal Rocks, around 60 miles north of where these bodies were found, had suddenly vanished. It is suspected that the sharks left as a result of divers that attempted to approach the sharks, pet them and take pictures of them.

"Gray nurse shark advisory signs are located at key sites in NSW, and DPI will consider installing additional signage in areas where there has been ongoing reports of unethical diver behavior," a DPI spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

"Any incidences of interfering (this includes petting) should be reported immediately to the Fisher's Watch Hotline for investigation by Fisheries Compliance, along with any evidence (video, boat names, vehicle registrations etc.)"

Despite conservation efforts, gray nurse shark numbers are still declining.