Local divers in the Cayman Islands have taken to social media this week to try to get to the bottom of a troubling and very puzzling whodunnit – one that involves a nurse shark found with a kitchen knife lodged in its head.


The utensil was removed by a dive guide, and the shark was reportedly seen days later in seemingly good condition (though we wouldn't suggest that inexperienced divers attempt this kind of rescue).

Reef Divers instructor Brett Johnson encountered the injured animal near Cayman Brac's Snapper Reef. "At first it looked like it was just sleeping as most nurse sharks usually are," he told The Cayman Compass"I can't say what happened or why it ended up getting knifed in the head, but fortunately it came out easy enough and the shark seems to be doing all right."

Understandably, the big question among commenters was whether a shark can actually withstand such an injury. Compared to more sensitive species like hammerheads, nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) are relatively robust, so it's definitely plausible that the shark will survive the flesh wound – though it's certainly fortunate that the injury wasn't worse.

"Nurse sharks love to wedge in ledges and wrecks," explains Bimini Shark Lab researcher Matt Smukall. "The knife could have easily been buried deeper in the shark or moved to a worse angle while the shark was moving into a ledge." 

Without any concrete evidence, it's hard to pin down the facts about this incident, though there has been much conjecture online. 

"I'm willing to bet a fisherman dropped the knife off a boat by accident, and this little guy was unfortunate enough to be under at the wrong time," wrote one commenter. The position of the knife in the head, however, suggests this scenario is not likely. 

Meanwhile, some commenters have speculated that a fishermen may have caught the shark with a line or net before attempting to "finish it off" using the knife. While arguably less reprehensible than a gratuitous attack, this scenario doesn't let the culprit off the hook: sharks have been protected in Cayman waters since 2014. If they are caught – even accidentally – the law calls for immediate release, and perpetrators can face hefty fines or jail time (or both).

"It would be great if all public docks and boat launches had signs posted on them reminding the public that it is illegal to take sharks from Cayman waters," Johnson added.

Of course, it is also possible that the animal was injured by a local bather or tourist. Anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact the local Department of Environment.

"It's sad to see things like this happen," Johnson said. "This shark is harmless."


Top header image: Russell Eck/Flickr