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


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 21 Jun 2024,

Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre 1788)

More Info


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.


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.


To 5.7 metres (possibly to 635 cm TL).


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. They feed by herding schools of smaller pelagic fishes towards the surface and stun them with their 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. 
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.


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.


  • IUCN Red List : Vulnerable
  • Thresher sharks are considered vulnerable due to their declining populations and low capacity to recover from over-fishing.


    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.


    The specific name is from the Latin vulpinus (= fox), in reference referring to the long 'fox-like' tail.

    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. 2023


    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.

    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.

    Bernal, D., Donley, J.M., McGillivray, D.G., Aalbers, S.A., Syme, D.A. & 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.

    Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

    Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3)

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

    Macbeth, W.G., Vandenberg, M. & Graham, K.J. 2008. Identifying Sharks and Rays; A guide to Commercial Fishers. Sydney : New South Wales Department of Primary Industry 71 pp.

    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.

    McCulloch, A.R. 1916. Report on some fishes obtained by the F.I.S. Endeavour on the coasts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South and South-Western Australia. Part 4. Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments carried on by the F.I.S. Endeavour 1909-1914 4(4): 169-199 figs 1-2 pls 49-58

    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

    Pepperell, J. 2010. Fishes of the Open Ocean a Natural History & Illustrated Guide. Sydney : University of New South Wales Press Ltd 266 pp.

    Phillipps, W.J. 1932. Notes on new fishes from New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology 13(4): 226-234 figs 1-5 (described as Alopias caudatus, type locality Westernport Bay, Victoria).

    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. 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.

    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.

    Whitley, G.P. 1937. Studies in Ichthyology No. 10. Records of the Australian Museum 20(1): 3-24 figs 1-5 pl. 2 (described as Alopias greyi, type locality off Bermagui, NSW).

    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

    Species Image Gallery

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map