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 / License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial


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. 2019, Alopias vulpinus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 08 Oct 2022,

Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

More Info


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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).


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.


  • 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).


    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.


    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.


    Bray, D.J. 2019


    Atlas of Living Australia

    Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)


    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.

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

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    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.

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    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37012001

    Conservation:IUCN Vulnerable

    Danger:Thrashing tail, sharp teeth

    Depth:0-650 metres

    Habitat:Oceanic, pelagic

    Max Size:To 5.7 metres

    Species Image Gallery

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    CAAB distribution map