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, breaching in Nova Scotia, Canada, August 2018. Source: charmanderson / iNaturalist.org. License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial

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:
Bray, D.J. 2023, Alopias vulpinus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 11 Jun 2023, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1850

Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

More Info


Distribution

About Brisbane, Queensland, around southern Australia to the North West Shelf, Western Australia, including Tasmania. Elsewhere the species is circumglobal in tropical to cold-temperate seas.

Although seen in coastal and oceanic waters, adults 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 large, pectoral fins large 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 (possibly to 635 cm TL).

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. 
Gestation period about 9 months; size at birth 120–150 cm TL; males mature at 260–420 cm TL; and females mature at 260–465 cm TL. After a gestation period of about 9 months, females produce 2-6 pups annually or biannually; maximum age 38 years.

Fisheries

The Thresher Shark is fished throughout its range in commercial and small-scale pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries, mostly taken as bycatch of industrial longline and pelagic gillnet fisheries. The species is also fished with anchored bottom and surface gillnets, and is a bycatch of other gear including bottom trawls and fish traps. The species is usually retained for the meat, fins, liver oil and skin. It is also keenly sought by game fishers 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

    The specific name is from the Latin vulpinus (= 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

    Bray, D.J. 2023

    Resources

    Atlas of Living Australia

    Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

    References


    Aalbers, S.A., Bernal, D. & Sepulveda, C.A. 2010. The functional role of the caudal fin in the feeding ecology of the common
    thresher shark Alopias vulpinus. Journal of Fish Biology 76: 1863–1868.

    Bernal, D., Donley, J.M., Shadwick, R.E. & Syme, D.A. 2005. Mammal like muscles power swimming in a cold-water shark. Nature 437: 1349–1352.

    Bernal, D. & Sepulveda, C.A. 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.

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

    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.

    Patterson, J.C., Sepulveda, C.A. & Bernal, D. 2011. The vascular morphology and in vivo muscle temperatures of thresher sharks (Alopiidae). Journal of Morphology 272(11): 1353-1364

    Rigby, C.L., Barreto, R., Fernando, D., Carlson, J., Charles, R., Fordham, S., Francis, M.P., Herman, K., Jabado, R.W., Liu, K.M., Marshall, A., Pacoureau, N., Romanov, E., Sherley, R.B. & Winker, H. 2022. Alopias vulpinus (amended version of 2019 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T39339A212641186. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-1.RLTS.T39339A212641186.en. Accessed on 06 January 2023.

    Sepulveda, C.A., Wegner, N.C., Bernal, D. & Graham, J.B. 2005. The red muscle morphology of the thresher sharks (family Alopiidae). Journal of Experimental Biology 208: 4255-4261. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.01898

    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

    Conservation:IUCN Vulnerable

    Danger:Thrashing tail, sharp teeth

    Depth:0-650 m

    Depth:573 cm TL

    Habitat:Coastal, oceanic, pelagic

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    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map