Wonder in the detail: Nurse sharks

Anyone ever looked up close at a nurse shark? Like, really close. What you find is fascinating and beautiful. And most photos I’ve seen of nurse sharks do not highlight this. My friend, Nat, recently photographed some while snorkeling in Belize. He captured this shot of these warm water monsters:

Belizian Nurse sharks. Photo courtesy Nat Johnson

Here it is up close:

Nurse shark skin detail.

Their tough (yet soft) skin has a texture made up of a semi-squared-off dots in a random pattern but pulling from a tight color palette. It seems perfect for blending in to a sandy ocean floor although I don’t know who a 14-foot shark hides from.

I stare at this and am mesmerized.

It is like a table full of cafe latte, chocolate pudding and coconut jellybeans.

It’s pointillism pre-Georges Seurat. It could hang on a gallery wall.

Nurse shark skin is nature’s version of a cobblestone walkway. The original earthy tile floor. And they had this pattern long before Irish farmers stacked rocks from their fields into meandering walls.

People are drawn to the look: dozens of laminate floor and tile makers have copied this design, maybe without even realizing it. Subconscious biomimicry.

I’m reminded of Indian corn with the way the shapes are pushed together in imperfect rows.


I see it as gorgeous handmade wabi sabi art. A pattern on a loose but noticeable grid. Classic and timeless.

Replicated nurse shark pattern and nurse shark-inspired indian corn.

Many a linoleum flooring designer has (unwittingly) copied the nurse shark.


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