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Watch Sharks 'Walk' on the Seafloor to Get Snacks

Nurse sharks have some creative feeding strategies.

A nurse sharked eats at a feed station with its fins touching the sandy ocean floor.
A nurse shark uses pectoral positioning to feed in a manner that resembles walking on the ocean floor.
Kristian Parton

You can't just ask a shark, "What's you favorite eating position?" You have to go where they live and find out yourself. A team of researchers used baited remote underwater video, or BRUV, cameras to investigate the secret snacking lives of nurse sharks. The footage turned up some fascinating feeding moves, including a "walking" style of behavior.

The "walk" involves the shark using its forward pectoral fins on the ocean floor to position itself for eating. The university notes it's an unusual maneuver for sharks, which typically don't have much movement in those fins. 

"These feeding behaviors show that nurse sharks are adapted to feed on different prey across a variety of habitats," said marine biologist Kristian Parton in a University of Exeter, Cornwall statement on Thursday. Parton is the lead author of a study on the sharks' dining habits published in Environmental Biology of Fishes in November.

Nurse sharks are nonaggressive bottom dwellers that often reach about 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length. The researchers collected underwater footage from late 2020 through early 2021 around the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. All told, they gathered 233 observations.

The university shared a compilation video with some of the greatest hits from the feeding footage. The video shows a shark using the pectoral positioning "walking" motion with its fins touching the seafloor as it works on getting food out of the container. 

There's also an adorable moment where a shark flips over and tries to feed belly up. If you have an inclination to think sharks can be cute, this should cement that notion.

The nurse sharks aren't hopping out of the water for moonlight strolls on the beach, but the fin motion is familiar. Nurse sharks are related to a type of shark known to "walk" with its fins across land during low tide. "Our footage suggests nurse sharks may do something similar on the sea floor," said Parton.

The researchers are working to better understand nurse sharks -- which haven't been studied as extensively as some other sharks -- and their role in the ocean ecosystem. Now we know nurse sharks are capable of some fancy fin work in the quest for food.