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Creation 36(2):15, April 2014

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Vegetarian shark

The nurse shark that uses her razor-sharp, serrated teeth to pulp broccoli and cabbage, celery and lettuce


Illustrated by Caleb Salisbury vegetarian-shark-cartoon

Sharks must eat meat, right? Wrong! A 1.8-metre-long (6-ft) nurse shark at the Birmingham National Sea Life Centre (UK) has turned vegetarian.

Since 2009, Florence (as her handlers call her) has shunned any form of meat or fish. Instead she eats broccoli and cabbage “and any other greens she can steal from fellow ocean tank resident Molokai the green turtle.”1

Her handlers are concerned that she is not having a proper diet, so they “use every trick they can devise” to try to get her to eat meat. For example, they hide pieces of fish inside her celery, or in hollowed-out cucumbers, and between the leaves of lettuces.

“And it has to be well hidden,” explains Sea Life curator Graham Burrows, “because if she realises it’s there she’ll ignore the offering and wait for the strictly vegetarian option.”

Florence evidently started out life as a meat-eater, but became vegetarian four years ago after surgery to remove a rusty hook from deep inside her mouth.

“She was off her food for a good while when she first arrived from Florida with three other nurse sharks,” explained Burrows. An ultrasound scan soon showed the problem. “The hook had obviously been there for years and was badly rusted which is what made her so ill. She was put on antibiotics and made a swift recovery.”

No doubt the trauma2 of the fish-hook experience is a factor in Florence’s vegetarianism.


But we should also remember that her shark ancestors 6,000 years ago in the pre-Fall world didn’t eat fish either. Sharks developed their fish-eating habits only after Eve gave Adam the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6). That action brought death, pain, carnivory and diseases into the world.3 So Florence’s capacity for plant-eating shouldn’t be too much of a surprise (even though she and other ‘vegetarian carnivores’ in today’s post-Fall world might need to augment their plant diet with fish or meat from time to time4).

Indeed, knowledgeable observers of sharks today know that Florence’s plant-eating ability is not unique.

“Nurse sharks do occasionally graze on algae in the wild, and we weren’t surprised when Florence first stole some of Molokai’s greens,” Burrows recounted. “We just weren’t expecting her to go completely veggie. We wouldn’t want her to be an embarrassment to the other flesh-eating hammerheads and black-tipped reef sharks in the ocean tank.”

References and notes

  1. Wrenn, E., Meet Florence, the world’s first vegetarian shark who prefers celery sticks and cucumber to fish, dailymail.co.uk, 18 May 2012. Return to text.
  2. Fish feel pain, Creation 26(4):7, 2004; creation.com/fish-feel-pain. Return to text.
  3. For further details and discussion see ‘How did bad things come about?’ Chapter 6 of CMI’s The Creation Answers Book, chapter available as a pdf at creation.com/cab6. Return to text.
  4. Wieland, C., The cat who refuses to eat meat, creation.com/vegcat, 28 April 2009. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Stella T.
Micro-flora lost due to antibiotics don't take four years to return back to normal. It only takes few days. Moreover if the Shark is on vegetarian diet it would require more bacteria to digest the cellulose than the carnivores that eat meat. Animals are always given a dose of B-complex along with antibiotics during its treatment, hence they do not lose their micro-flora completely.
Robert P.
Maybe the antibiotics given to the shark killed the gut bacteria needed to digest fish or other meat. That would explain the shark's preference for vegetables - instinctively eating what will help restore the proper gut bacteria.
John B.
I understood that meat-eating started after the flood, certainly as far as mankind was concerned. I would have thought that this would have applied to animals as well. Death in the animal kingdom was not caused primarily because animals were eaten; death was caused by accident, old age and disease which was introduced as God's curse as a result of sin.

Carnivorous behaviour would also have been an additional issue on the ark, although this is not my primary argument.

In the pre-flood animal kingdom, grass and plant eating would have supplied all the nutritional needs even in what became carnivores later. Evolutionists think that if an animal has a short gut and big teeth (eg lions) that they have evolved for a meat rich diet and cannot survive on plants only. You only need to consider the panda who eats just bamboo shoots yet has a short gut and survives and thrives.
David Catchpoole
John, thanks for your comment, but I strongly recommend that you consider the arguments for pre-Flood carnivory presented in the article Feeding carnivores on the Ark, and the further reading accessible via the embedded hyperlinks therein.
Thomas D.
Vegetarian carnivores are rare but it does happen once in awhile. One of the best known animal in this class was Little Tyke, a lioness. The people who raised her were vegetarians so maybe their example . . . . . .? This pet was featured many times on American TV when "Love" and "Kindness" was thought to be a virtue and was actively sought to be shown to the public. But, alas, that seems to be a thing of the past.
David Catchpoole
Readers can access for free our online archive Creation magazine article about Little Tyke by clicking on "The lion that wouldn't eat meat" in the list of Related Articles above.
Marc K.

I don't know about sharks etc being "vegetarian" before the Fall. Genesis 1:30 makes no mention of sea creatures in God's statement.
David Catchpoole
Thanks Marc, and you're quite right about Genesis 1:30 not mentioning sea creatures.

However, referencing Scripture with Scripture, contextually a "very good" world (Genesis 1:31) is not one that has pain and death of 'nephesh chayyāh' creatures. That phrase nephesh chayyāh (Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה) means 'living being', and is used to describe man in Genesis 2:7. Note that it is also used of the sea creatures in Genesis 1:20–21. Our past articles have documented that fish feel pain, as humans do (which is hardly surprising given that both are nephesh creatures), and would not have died in the pre-Fall world. (See: Fish feel pain; and Did fish die before the Fall?)
Aleksandar K.
But the shark IS eating meat, although it doesn't know it, so I don't know what does this prove. Could today's shark adapt to vegetarian diet? It's adaptability is certainly nowhere near of the one the proto-shark had. It's genome might be too impoverished by selection and mutations to do such a switch. It's not impossible either, though...
Jay Zeke M.
Yet another wonderful example of an echo of Eden :) I didn't think there were so many. Little Tyke and Lea were the only examples I knew. Thanks for posting this :)
David Catchpoole
For the benefit of readers new to CMI literature, you can read about the vegetarian lions 'Little Tyke' and 'Lea' and other 'echoes of Eden' in the articles listed under 'Related Articles' above.

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