Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)


Other Names: Atlantic Thresher, Common Thresher Shark, Fox Shark, Thintail Thresher, Thrasher Shark, Whip-Tailed Shark

A Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus. Source: Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO. License: CC by Attribution

Summary:

Thresher Sharks have a specialised circulatory system allowing them to maintain body temperatures above that of the surrounding water. They feed by herding schools of smaller pelagic fishes towards the surface and stun them with their large thrashing tail.

Identifying features:
Upper caudal-fin lobe enormous - as long or longer than rest of body;
Eyes relatively small, positioned on side of head;
Middle of first dorsal-fin base closer to free tips of pectoral fins than to pelvic fins;
First dorsal and pectoral fins large, pectoral fin with narrowly rounded tips;
Metallic blue-grey to brownish above, underside white, with the white area extending above the pectoral-fin bases.


Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Alopias vulpinus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Nov 2018, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1850

Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

More Info


Distribution

Circumglobal in tropical and temperate waters, from coastal regions to the open ocean. Found in the more temperate parts of Australia, from about Brisbane (Queensland) to the North West Shelf (Western Australia) in depths from surface waters to 650 metres. Although seen in coastal and oceanic waters, adult Thresher Sharks are usually found offshore. Females migrate inshore to give birth, and the young remain in shallow coastal waters, moving further offshore as they mature.

Features

Body fusiform, stout, dorsal lobe of tail at least as long as rest of body, head broad, snout broad, pointed, mouth small,  eyes on midside of head; first dorsal fin and pectoral fins large, pectoral fin with narrowly rounded tips; second dorsal and anal fins very small. Small, smooth-edged, curved blade-like teeth in jaws.

Size

To 5.7 metres in Australia (to 7.5 metres elsewhere).

Colour

Body brownish to a metallic blue-grey; underside white, with irregular white markings extending above the pectoral fins; pectoral, pelvic and dorsal fins blackish; pectoral, dorsal and caudal fins sometimes with small additional white marks.

Feeding

Thresher sharks have an unusual hunting method – herding schools of smaller pelagic fishes towards the surface then stunning them with the large thrashing tail. Prey includes mackerels, tailor, needlefishes, cephalopods and even seabirds.

Biology

Thresher sharks are ovoviviparous. The embryos develop in a primitive uterus within the female, where they are nourished by yolk-filled egg capsules that are continually produced by the mother for the developing young to consume. This is a form of intra-uterine (within-the-uterus) cannibalism, known as oophagy or oviphagy. After a gestation period of about 9 months, up to 7 pups (average 2-4) measuring 114-160 cm are born (Smith et al. 2008).

Fisheries

The Thresher Shark is fished commercially throught its range, and is often taken in offshore longline and pelagic gillnet fisheries, and is also fished with anchored bottom and surface gillnets, and is a bycatch of other gear including bottom trawls and fish traps (Maguire et al. 2006). It is also popular with recreational anglers and is keenly sought for its fighting ability.

Conservation

  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Vulnerable
  • Thresher sharks are considered vulnerable due to their declining populations and low capacity to recover from over-fishing. There is little available information on thresher sharks in the Indo-West Pacific (Goldman et al. 2009).

    Remarks

    Thresher Sharks have a specialised circulatory system that allows them to maintain their body temperatures above that of the surrounding water - a feature also seen in by tunas, billfishes and sailfishes. They have also been seen leaping completely out of the water.

    Thresher sharks must be handled carefully when caught, as the long, thrashing tail can be extremely dangerous, and the teeth are very sharp.

    Similar Species

    The Pelagic Thresher (Alopias pelagicus) has a narrower head, a longer snout, and almost straight pectoral fins with broad tips.

    The Bigeye Thresher (Alopias superciliosus) has an enormous oval-shaped eye, a longer snout and a v-shaped ridge on the head.

    Etymology

    Alopias is from the Greek alopex (fox), and the specific name vulpinus is from the Latin, also meaning "fox".

    Species Citation

    Squalus vulpinus Bonnaterre, 1788. Tableau Encyclopédique et Méthodique des trois Règnes de la Nature. Ichthyologie. Paris: 9, pl. 85(349). Type locality: Mediterranean Sea.

    Author

    Dianne J. Bray

    Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

    References


    Aalbers SA, Bernal D, Sepulveda CA. 2010. The functional role of the caudal fin in the feeding ecology of the common
    thresher shark Alopias vulpinus. J Fish Biol 76: 1863–1868.

    Anderson, R.C. & Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2005. Indian Ocean, pp. 140-149. In: S.L. Fowler, M. Camhi, G.H. Burgess, G.M. Cailliet, S.V. Fordham, R.D. Cavanagh, C.A. Simpfendorfer &  J.A. Musick (eds). Sharks, rays and chimaeras: the status of the chondrichthyan fishes. IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

    Bernal D, Donley JM, Shadwick RE, Syme DA. 2005. Mammal like muscles power swimming in a cold-water shark. Nature 437: 1349–1352.

    Bernal D, Sepulveda CA. 2005. Evidence for temperature elevation in the aerobic swimming musculature of the common
    thresher shark, Alopias vulpinus. Copeia 2005: 146–151.

    Bernal D, Syme D, McGillivray D, Donley J, Sepulveda C. 2009. The effect of temperature on the muscle contractile properties in the common thresher shark. Integr Comp Biol 49: (suppl 1) e199. doi: 10.1093/icb/icp003.

    Bernal D, Donley JM, McGillivray DG, Aalbers SA, Syme DA, Sepulveda C. 2010. Function of the medial red muscle during sustained swimming in common thresher sharks: contrast and convergence with thunniform swimmers. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 155(4): 454-463.

    Compagno, L.J.V. 1984. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 4. Sharks of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Part 1. Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes. FAO, Rome.

    Compagno, L.J.V. 1990. Shark exploitation and conservation. In: H.L. Pratt, Jr., S.H. Gruber & T. Taniuchi (eds). Elasmobranchs as living resources: Advances in the biology, ecology, systematics and the status of the fisheries. NOAA Techncal Report. NMFS.

    Compagno, L.J.V. 2001. Sharks of the world: an annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Volume 2. Bullhead, Mackerel and Carpet Sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). FAO. Rome, Italy.

    Cortés, E. 2008. Comparative life history and demography of pelagic sharks, pp. 309-322. In: M. Camhi, E.K. Pikitch & E.A. Babcock (eds). Sharks of the Open Ocean. Blackwell Publishing.

    Dulvy, N.K., Baum, J.K., Clarke, S., Compagno, L.J.V., Cortés, E., Domingo, A., Fordham, S., Fowler, S.L., Francis, M.P., Gibson, C., Martinez, J., Musick, J.A., Soldo, A., Stevens, J.D. & Valenti, S.V. 2008. You can swim but you can’t hide: the global status and conservation of oceanic pelagic sharks and rays. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 18(5): 459-482.

    Gilmore, R.G. 1993. Reproductive biology of lamnoid sharks. Environmental Biology of Fishes 38: 95-114.

    Goldman, K.J., Baum, J., Cailliet, G.M., Cortés, E., Kohin, S., Macías, D., Megalofonou, P., Perez, M., Soldo, A. & Trejo, T. 2009. Alopias vulpinus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 14 January 2012.

    Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia Edn 2, 550 pp.

    Maguire, J.-J., Sissenwine, M.P., Csirke, J., Grainger, R.J.R. & Garcia, S.M. 2006. The state of world highly migratory, straddling and other high seas fisheries resources and associated species. Fisheries Technical Report. FAO, Rome.

    May, J.L. & Maxwell, J.G.H. 1986. Field Guide to Trawl Fish from Temperate Waters of Australia. Hobart : CSIRO Division of Marine Research 492 pp.

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    Sepulveda CA, Wegner NC, Bernal D, Graham JB. 2005. The red muscle morphology of the thresher sharks (family Alopiidae). J Exp Biol 208: 4255–4261.

    Smith, S.E., Rasmussen, R.C., Ramon, D.A. & Cailliet, G.M. 2008. The biology and ecology of thresher sharks (Alopiidae). In: Camhi, M.D., Pikitch, E.K. & Babcock, E.A. (eds). Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell Publishing. Oxford, UK.

    White, W.T. 2008. Shark Families Heterodontidae to Pristiophoridae. pp. 32-100 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

    Quick Facts


    CAAB Code:37012001

    Biology:Live-bearer

    Conservation:IUCN: Vulnerable

    Danger:Thrashing tail, sharp teeth

    Depth:0-650 metres

    Habitat:Oceanic, pelagic

    Max Size:To 5.7 metres

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