Grey Nurse Shark
Silhouette of a Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in the mouth of a cave. Fish Rock Cave, South West Rocks, NSW
Grey nurse sharks are strictly fish eaters and are totally harmless, but last century they were wrongly blamed for many shark attacks on people in Australia. Spearfishers and divers killed huge numbers of these supposedly highly dangerous sharks using explosive powerheads, and received wide public admiration. They were not likely to admit that killing the sharks was easy, since the sharks are actually docile and spend most of their time swimming very slowly in circles. In a few years the sharks were nearly extinct all along the east coast of Australia.
Eventually it became widely known that grey nurse sharks were not man-eaters and were in serious trouble, and in 1984 the NSW government declared them a protected species -- a world first for a shark. Today there are believed to be as few as 500 individuals left on the east coast, and the maximum fine for killing one is A$220,000 (around US$200,000).