Shark Nursery

September 10, 2023
By Damond Benningfield

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Young sharks, such as these blacktips, are commonly found in a small, protected bay on the coast of Boa Vista Island, which serves as a nursery area for young sharks. Credit: Timo Newton-Syms, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Young sharks of several threatened species are living together in a “nursery” off the western tip of Africa. It’s one of the busiest nurseries in the Atlantic Ocean.

From 2016 to 2019, researchers counted the sharks found in fishing nets around Cabo Verde, a group of small volcanic islands about 350 miles west of Africa. They also interviewed most of the fishermen in the region to see where young sharks were most common. And one spot was by far the most popular: Sal Rei Bay, on the coast of Boa Vista Island.

The scientists confirmed populations of five species of shark there: milk, scalloped hammerhead, blacktip, Atlantic weasel, and nurse. All of the recorded species are fairly small. The juveniles spend several years in their nurseries before heading into the open ocean.

An international conservation group lists the Atlantic weasel shark as endangered, and the scalloped hammerhead as critically endangered. The other three species are “vulnerable”—they’re not facing extinction just yet, but they’re not in great shape, either. All five species are threatened by overfishing—in part because shark fins are still an expensive delicacy in some parts of the world.

Sal Rei Bay may be so popular among shark mamas and papas because it’s fairly small—less than 10 square miles—and it’s well protected from the ocean. It may provide plenty of food for the pups, along with protection from predators—a perfect nursery for young sharks.