World’s First Vegetarian Shark Shuns Meat

A six-foot-long nurse shark living at the Birmingham National Sea Life Center in England
has reportedly become the first shark in the world to have developed a preference for leafy greens over meat.

The shark, named Florence, made headlines in 2009 as the first shark in the world to survive an ‘out of water’ surgery that was necessary to remove a rusty fish hook deeply embedded in her mouth that was discovered after she stopped eating. After the surgery, her dietery preferences took an interesting change.

Her caretakers weren’t reportedly that surprised when she started stealing veggies from Molokai, the resident sea turtle, because nurse sharks occasionally ingest algae. However, since nurse sharks are obligate carnivores who normally have a preference for fish and crustaceans, her keepers were baffled when she started shunning meat altogether and have since resorted to trickery to get her to eat enough protein.

“We’re having to hide pieces of fish inside celery sticks, hollowed out cucumbers and between the leaves of lettuces to get her to eat them,” said curator Graham Burrows. “And it has to be well hidden, because if she realises it’s there she’ll ignore the offering and wait for the strictly vegetarian option.”

While we may never know what caused the change to Florence’s preferences, David Shiffman, author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help” speculates that its not likely a result of captivity-induced stress, since nurse sharks are common in aquariums and this type of thing has never been documented before, but the stress from her injury, capture and surgery may have be the culprit.

“What we do know is that when an animal suffers a traumatic experience and then radically changes its diet and behavior in an unhealthy way, it isn’t something that we should celebrate,” he said.

Regardless of the cause, Florence’s caretakers are devoted to ensuring that she continues to receive proper nutrition to stay healthy.

Related Stories:

Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson Arrested in Germany

Sharks and Other Predators Are Essential for Ocean Health

Loss of Top Predator’s is “Humankind’s Most Pervasive Influence on Nature”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

119 comments

Yvette T.
Past Member 3 years ago

Many vegetarians and vegans donate butterfly credits to farm that slaughters animals for meat, without knowing. The "Raise A Farm Animal Humanely" is the slaughter farm, where sacred life is violently ended, meat is eaten and sold. Please be aware of these, vegan and vegetarians, Buddhists and Hindus and Christians and Jews who follow the sacred path and original teachings to eat veg diet and cause no harm. This is not a sanctuary for rescued farm animals. The word "Humanely" means something entirely different here.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.3 years ago

Wow, interesting.

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Jennifer P.
Jennifer P.3 years ago

Sharks may be a very long surviving species but they still need to eat meat. Florence has not suddenly adapted her biological needs to eat vegetation, no matter how much some people want to stop eating up the food chain as we have evolved. Vegan, for humans, is a choice. For sharks it is not an option.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch3 years ago

Just from a healthy diet standpoint, the shark needs to eat animal protein to survive. Carnivores eat meat, Onmivores eat meat and plants, and Herbivores eat plants. A shark is NOT an Herbivore, therefore if it only eats plant materials, it will die.

Hunter W.
Hunter W.3 years ago

Wow... Some of the comments amaze me.. This is a SHARK. An OBLIGATE CARNIVORE. This is extremely unnatural and unless the animal eats it's natural diet, it will not last long. Sharks are basically the garbage trucks of the ocean (meaning this in a good way, I promise!) by cleaning up already dead or injured fish and other sea-life. This is the reason they are NOT vegetarians. The shark was not "smart" by switching to this diet, the hook and surgery has traumatized it.
This is not something to celebrate, but to be concerned about.

Craig Gosling
Craig Gosling3 years ago

A vegetarian or vegan diet is healthy only if it is carefully regulated so you get the nutrition your body needs. This may prove difficult for some practitioners, and they may suffer from malnutrition. Humans evolved to be omnivorous, so you are taking a risk by not eating omnivorously. The shark in question, because of the fishhook, has been conditioned not to eat meat. Its caregivers are giving it the only practical, cost effective care they can, unless some well meaning folks donate money to pay for vegetarian protein.

Christine C.
Christine C.3 years ago

Thanks

John Mansky
John Mansky3 years ago

Beware of spots changing on a leopard...

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

I agree with Joseph B. By this time we must have the technology to meet her needs with either a vegan blend of plant proteins or synthesized protein including enough synthesized taurine to support her. I realize this means she will never be able to return to the ocean to live.