Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Misleading Appearance

Of all McCoy's descriptions of Port Phillip Bay's sharks, that of the Grey Nurse Shark is most poignant. This much-maligned species, now known to be exclusively a fish eater, has become extinct in Victoria. Only a few hundred of this previously plentiful species are thought to be left on the entire East Coast of Australia.

A victim of its misleading appearance, the large size and sharp, exposed teeth of the Grey Nurse contributed to the myth of its man-eating nature - a falsehood only recently dispelled, as its population continues to decline.

This is one of the largest and most ferocious of our Sharks, and so common as to be an object of great terror to bathers, who occasionally suffer grievous lacerations when caught swimming even near the shore, towards which the species approaches into unusually shallow water.

Enormous jaws of this species may often be seen in the fisherman's huts along the shore from Picnic Point to Mordialloc, and are easily known by the length and slenderness of the teeth, which are very numerous, about an inch long, and set in three of four rows on the under jaw, and two rows on the upper one, making a fearful armature of spikes, the lacerated wound produced by which is almost always fatal. One or two small teeth are remarkable as intervening between the third and fourth large ones on each side.

It is a very active and voracious species driving shoals of fish before it in terror as it dashes along; and it is one of those which will occasionally dart out of the water at a piece of meat, or the oar of a boat, or a man's arm or leg.

Historical Voices:
Grey Nurse Shark
Jaws of the Grey Nurse Shark, Carcharias taurus.
Grey Nurse Shark/School Shark, Carcharias taurus/Galeorhinus galeus, by Frederick Schoenfeld.