Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus Click to enlarge image
Head of a Thresher Shark. Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    vulpinus
    Genus
    Alopias
    Family
    Alopiidae
    Order
    Lamniformes
    Class
    Chondrichthyes
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    The Thresher Shark grows to a maximum size of around 5.5 m.

The extremely long upper lobe of the Thresher Shark's caudal fin is used to herd and stun small fishes upon which the shark feeds.


Identification

All the thresher sharks (Family Alopiidae) have an extremely long upper lobe of the caudal fin. The Thresher Shark can be recognised by its pointed, pectoral fins, white colouration of the body above the pectoral fins, and other fin characteristics. In life it is blue-grey dorsally and white ventrally.

Three species of thresher sharks are recorded from Australian waters. The Bigeye Thresher Alopias superciliosus, has very large eyes which extend onto the top surface of the head, and a deep groove which runs from behind the eyes to above the gill slits. The Pelagic Thresher, Alopias pelagicus, can be recognised by a combination of characters including fin shapes and colouration. The side of the body above the pectoral fin is dark.


Scales of a Thresher Shark, Alopias vulpinus
Scanning electron micrograph of the overlapping placoid scales of a Thresher Shark. Image: Sue Linday
© Australian Museum

Habitat

The species occurs in coastal and oceanic waters. In Australia it occurs in temperate waters from the surface down to about 370 m.

Distribution

The species has a widespread distribution in temperate and topical waters. In Australia it occurs from southern Queensland to Tasmania, around the south of the country and to the central coast of Western Australia.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums.



Feeding and diet

The elongate upper lobe o the tail is used to herd and stun small fishes upon which the shark feeds.

References

  1. Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO. Pp. 513, Pl. 1-84.