American Oceans

Thresher Shark

The Alopiidae family of sharks, which includes thresher sharks, is an interesting one.

thresher shark swimming in ocean underwater near boat

These sharks are recognizable by their long, whip-like tails, which can be nearly half the length of the animal overall.

The World Conservation Union rates thresher sharks as being at risk of going extinct and notes that they can be found in temperate and tropical oceans all over the world.

Chondrichthyes, a group of cartilaginous fish that comprises sharks, rays, and chimeras, contains thresher sharks as one of its species. They are a member of the Lamniformes order, which also contains great white and makos and other large sharks.

Although thresher sharks are solitary animals, they occasionally prey in pairs or threes. These sharks circle around to eat their stunned food after stunnetting it with their long tails, which is often schooling fish.

Anatomy and Appearance

Thresher sharks are a unique species of shark that are easily recognizable by their long, whip-like tails.

Pelagic Thresher Shark

These sharks have a distinctive body structure, skin and coloration, as well as fins and tails that set them apart from other shark species.

Body Structure

Thresher sharks are fairly slender, with a short, cone-shaped head and a long, slender body. Their eyes are relatively small and positioned towards the front of their head.

They have five to seven gill slits on the sides of their head. These sharks have a unique body structure with a long, whip-like tail that can be as long as the body itself. This tail is used to stun and catch prey.

Skin and Coloration

Thresher sharks have a distinct skin texture with small, overlapping scales that are rough to the touch.

Their skin coloration ranges from brownish, bluish or purplish gray dorsally with lighter shades ventrally. The coloration of their skin helps them blend in with their environment, making them difficult to spot by predators and prey alike.

Fins and Tail

Thresher sharks have a unique set of fins that help them swim and catch prey. They have a small dorsal fin and large, recurved pectoral fins. Their caudal fin, also known as their tail, is the most distinctive feature of the thresher shark.

thresher shark tail

This tail is used to stun and catch prey by whipping it back and forth. There are three species of thresher sharks, each with a slightly different tail structure. The Pelagic Thresher has the longest tail of the three species, while the Bigeye Thresher has the shortest.

Behavior and Habitat

Thresher sharks are known for their unique hunting behavior, which involves stunning their prey with their elongated tail.

These sharks are solitary creatures that prefer deep open ocean waters, although they will sometimes swim into shallow waters or areas close to shore.

Range and Distribution

Thresher sharks can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They prefer open ocean habitats over continental shelves and coastal waters, but can be observed close to shore in search of food.

Diet and Hunting

Thresher sharks primarily feed on schooling fish such as squid, tuna, mackerel, and swordfish.

They also eat crabs, shrimp, and cuttlefish. When hunting, thresher sharks will use their elongated tail to stun their prey before consuming it.

Reproductive Behavior

Thresher sharks are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs rather than giving birth to live young. Females will lay their eggs in shallow waters, and the young will remain in these areas until they are mature enough to venture out into deeper waters.

Thresher Shark group swimming in temperate waters

Thresher sharks are apex predators and have few natural predators. However, larger sharks may occasionally prey on them.

Thresher sharks are not schooling fish and are typically solitary creatures. They do not migrate long distances but may move to find food or suitable breeding grounds.

In terms of habitat, thresher sharks are found in both temperate and tropical oceans, although they prefer warmer waters. They are commonly found over the continental shelf, but can also be observed in oceanic waters.

Thresher sharks have a unique hunting behavior, stunning their prey with their elongated tail, which sets them apart from other shark species.

Threats and Conservation

Overfishing and Bycatch

Thresher sharks are threatened by overfishing and bycatch. According to the IUCN, three of the four thresher shark species are listed as vulnerable.

Thresher sharks are often caught as bycatch in commercial fishing operations targeting other species. They are also targeted for their meat, which is used for human consumption and leather production.

The NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database reported that in 2021, commercial landings of thresher shark on the West Coast totaled 73,000 pounds and were valued at more than $57,000. Most thresher shark is landed in California. Drift gillnets are used to catch common thresher sharks.

Threats to Populations

Overfishing and bycatch are not the only threats to thresher shark populations. Thresher sharks are also threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.

These factors can affect the availability of prey and the quality of the sharks’ habitat, which can impact their survival and reproduction.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts are underway to protect thresher sharks. The Thresher Shark Research & Conservation Project is a not-for-profit research organization that promotes and disseminates shark research, education, and conservation.

The organization conducts research on thresher shark populations, habitat, and behavior. The organization also works with local communities to raise awareness about the importance of shark conservation.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has recommended measures to protect thresher sharks caught in association with fisheries in the ICCAT Convention Area.

The Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks is an international agreement that aims to protect migratory sharks, including thresher sharks, and their habitats.

Efforts to protect thresher sharks are necessary to ensure their survival and prevent their extinction. Thresher sharks play a vital role in marine ecosystems, and their loss could have significant ecological consequences.

Involvement with Humans

Thresher sharks have a complex relationship with humans. While they are not typically targeted for their meat, they are often caught as bycatch in commercial fishing operations.

Additionally, they are sometimes targeted by sport fishermen for their impressive size and power.

Sport Fishing

Thresher sharks are known for their impressive size and power, which makes them a popular target for sport fishermen.

However, due to their elusiveness and the difficulty of catching them, they are not as commonly targeted as other species of shark. Sport fishing for thresher sharks is legal in some areas, but regulations vary depending on location.

Shark Finning

Thresher sharks are sometimes targeted for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in some cultures.

Shark finning is a controversial practice that involves removing the fins from a live shark and discarding the rest of the body. This practice is illegal in many parts of the world, but it continues to occur in some areas.

Shark Attacks

While thresher sharks are not typically considered a threat to humans, there have been a few instances of thresher shark attacks on humans. These attacks are rare, and thresher sharks are generally considered to be less dangerous than other species of shark.

Thresher sharks are also sometimes caught for their meat, but this is not a common practice. They are not typically considered a desirable food fish, and their meat is not widely consumed.

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