A YOUNG boy bitten on the finger by a docile species of carpet shark on Thursday was told more than 10 times by staff at a Bobs Farm shark centre not to put his finger near its mouth.
The boy, 10, on a school excursion with 53 other children, had been at the Australian Shark and Ray Centre about 25 minutes and was in his fourth and final safety briefing when he put his finger into the mouth of a one metre tawny nurse shark, according to shark centre Manager Ryan Pereira.
The shark, which has small but sharp rows of teeth, bit the boy on the tip of his finger, causing a small cut.
Staff at the centre called an ambulance, who treated the boy before taking him to Tomaree Community Hospital.
An Ambulance Service of NSW spokeswoman said the wound was not considered serious and may require a few stitches.
A Hunter New England Health spokesman confirmed the boy had been discharged on Thursday afternoon.
Ironically, Mr Pereira said the centre used the species of carpet shark, which lives on a diet of octopus and small fish, to educate children about how attacks are often a result of mistaken identity.
‘‘These sharks are docile and calm, they mainly like to lay down on coral reef and eat by sucking up food, they are not an aggressive shark in any way,’’ he said.
‘‘We use the tawny to identify to people why shark attacks happen, that they are a matter of mistaken identity. ‘‘A finger can look like a bit of squid if you dangle it in the water, out in the surf we look like a turtle and when we dive under waves we look like a seal, its nothing to do with a shark targeting us.’’
The school group were undertaking their fourth safety briefing and were preparing to enter the water with the sharks when the boy was bitten.
‘‘It was a real surprise to us, it has never happened with a school group before,’’ Mr Pereira said.
‘‘He had at least 10 warnings about not touching the front of the sharks nose or in its mouth when somehow the boy has jammed his finger in there.
‘‘Our tanks are supervised at all times during feeding periods, but we can’t prevent a member of the public doing something silly like that when they’ve been warned a number of times.’’
The privately-owned shark and ray centre has been open for seven years at Bobs Farm and prides itself on educating children and adults about conservation and safety.
TAWNY NURSE SHARK
● Widely found along coastlines in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
● Prefers reefs, sandy flats and seagrass beds.
● Nocturnal, spends the day resting in piles of two dozen or more sharks inside a cave or under a ledge.
● At night, it is a active swimming predator that uses a powerful suction force to extract prey from inside holes and crevices.
● The shark’s diet consists mainly of octopus although they also eat other invertebrates and small bony fishes.
● The maximum recorded length is 3.2 m.