These Sharks Are Able to "Walk" and Do Headstands to Catch Prey, Study Finds

They can weigh up to 330 pounds but it’s not stopping them from acrobatic exploits.

Scientists have found that some sharks are able to "walk" and even do headstands to catch their prey. That's according to a new study published in Environmental Biology of Fishes, which found that nurse sharks—a species commonly found at the very bottom of the ocean—are capable of those acrobatic moves when they're hungry.  Read on to find out more and see what an encounter with a nurse shark looks like up close.

Foraging for Food

Kristian Parton/University of Exeter

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England and the nonprofit Beneath the Waves observed sharks with underwater cameras in Turks and Caicos from September 2020 to April 2021. Over 233 observations from 71 cameras, the team identified a variety of methods sharks use to find food. Nurse sharks use vertical feeding (head down, like a headstand), ventral feeding (belly up) and "pectoral positioning" when foraging for food. During "pectoral positioning," a shark uses its pectoral fins in a way that resembles walking. Keep reading to learn more and see the video.

Study "Important Step"

Kristian Parton/University of Exeter

"These feeding behaviors show that nurse sharks are adapted to feed on different prey across a variety of habitats," said the study's lead author Kristian Parton. "Our footage suggests nurse sharks may do something similar on the sea floor." "This work illustrates the immense behavioral adaptability of coastal shark species," noted Dr. Oliver Shipley, senior research scientist at Beneath the Waves. "Despite their widespread nature, we know comparatively little about nurse shark behavior relative to other coastal species, so this study provides an important step to further understanding their ecological role."

What Are Nurse Sharks?


Nurse sharks are found near the bottom of the sea floor. Adult nurse sharks range from 7.5 to 10 feet long and can weigh up to 330 pounds. They're mostly harmless to humans, says National Geographic, but possess a strong jaw filled with sharp teeth and have been known to bite divers when disturbed. It's unclear how their name originated. One theory: Nurse sharks tend to make a sucking sound when hunting for food on the ocean floor, which could be likened to a baby nursing.

Nurse Shark Up Close

Matt Prior/ViralHog

As mild-mannered as nurse sharks sound, they can look pretty terrifying. An Australian scuba diver discovered this firsthand recently when a nurse shark swam close to him. Matt Prior captured video of the terrifying encounter. As the shark swam up to him, it bared its teeth in an eerie smile. As menacing as it looked, the creature swam by without incident.

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They Demand "Love and Affection"

Brianna Burke/The DoDo/YouTube

Diver and shark conservationist Jim Abernethy had a different experience: Whenever he swims by a certain area, a nurse shark swims up to him and demands "love and affection"—being stroked on the nose like a dog. "She's quite a demanding little girl that demands love and affection constantly," Abernethy told the Dodo. "It's quite a unique thing to have a relationship with a beautiful shark." The two have been interacting for more than a decade. 

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more
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