Herbsts nurse sharks are a rarely encountered species that looks very similar to the grey nurse shark. Grey nurse sharks are found in shallower inshore waters, while Herbsts nurse sharks are generally found at depths of 150–600 m off the NSW coast. The species has a wide but irregular distribution throughout the warm temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. In Australasia, they have been recorded off NSW, eastern Victoria, north-western Australia, New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands.
The Herbsts nurse shark is named locally after the first collector of the species in Australia.
Internationally, its names include small-toothed sand tiger shark and bumpy-tail ragged-tooth shark.
Herbsts nurse sharks are listed as a protected fish in NSW under the Fisheries Management Act 1994. Heavy penalties apply for taking or possessing them.
Herbsts nurse sharks are large, bulky sharks with a long, conical snout. They are medium to
dark grey above, fading to white on the belly.
Juveniles may have dusky margins and tips on both dorsal fins and the tail fin, sometimes with darker spots scattered on the flanks. The first dorsal fin is bigger than both the second dorsal fin and the anal fin, a feature that distinguishes them from grey nurse sharks, which have two dorsal fins of similar size.
Herbsts nurse sharks can also be distinguished from grey nurse sharks by their teeth. Herbsts nurse sharks have slender fang-like teeth with two or three pairs of small lateral cusplets near the base of each tooth, whereas grey nurse sharks have a single pair of lateral cusplets on each tooth.
The origin of the Herbsts nurse shark’s first dorsal fin is over the free rear end of pectorals, and the front of the second dorsal fin is above the back of the pelvic fins. A notch is present immediately in front of the tail.
Taking or possessing Herbsts nurse sharks (or any other species of protected fish) is an offence and heavy penalties apply. For corporations these penalties can include fines of up to $55 000 while individuals can face fines of up to 11 000 and up to 3 months in prison.
Bonfil R 1995, ‘Is the ragged-tooth shark cosmopolitan? First record from the western North Atlantic’, Journal of Fish Biology, 47:341–4.
Francis MP 1993, ‘Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, Southwest Pacific Ocean’, Pacific Science 47, No. 2: 136–70.
Graham KJ, Wood BR & Andrew NL 1997, ‘The 1996–97 survey of upper slope trawling grounds between Sydney and Gabo Island (and comparisons with the 1976–77 survey)’, Kapala Cruise Report No. 117, NSW Fisheries, Cronulla, Australia.
Last PR & Stevens JD 1994, Sharks and rays of Australia, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia, 513 pp.
Stewart A 1997, ‘Toothy sand tiger’, Seafood New Zealand, pp. 91–2.
For more information on general fishing regulations check with your local fisheries office or visit www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries
To contact your local NSW DPI Fisheries Office visit https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/contact-us/contact-a-dpi-fisheries-officer or phone 1300 550 474.