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Pelagic Thresher Shark (Alopias pelagicus)

Pelagic Thresher Shark (Alopias pelagicus)

All text on this page is copyright protected: © 2002 Kelvin Aitken.
All rights reserved. Students may use this information for personal research only. Not for commercial use.

Order: Lamniformes
Family: Alopiidae
Genus: Alopias
Species: pelagicus
Taxonomic name: Alopias pelagicus
Other Common Names: Fox shark, Small tooth thresher shark, Whiptail shark, Zorro de mar.

All three species of thresher shark are found in Australian waters. They are basically grey but tinted with a beautiful metallic sheen of blue, purple or violet. Their most notable feature is their tails; these take up half their body length.

The three species of thresher shark live in different habitats. The Bigeye Thresher Shark (Alopius superciliosus), which grows to 460 cm, dwells at depths as great as 500 m in the open ocean. Its large eyes are situated near the top of its head so that it can easily spot overhead schools of fish or squid silhouetted against the surface light.

The Common Thresher Shark (Alopius vulpinus) is often caught close to shore but this shy animal is rarely seen by divers. With a maximum body length of 550 cm and a small mouth only suited to feeding on small fish, it is considered harmless but anglers rightly respect the tail of a caught specimen as a well- placed swipe can break bones. The Pelagic Thresher Shark (Alopius pelagicus) lives far off shore in tropical waters. It has a shorter dorsal fin and more slender body shape than the other thresher species, growing to just 350cm.

The name 'thresher' comes from their method of hunting schooling fish. Using their long tail, they herd small baitfish or squid into a tight ball; then charge through the school or stun the fish with a swipe of the tail. The vertebrae at the tip of the tail are enlarged slightly to give extra weight to the blow. During the summer months thresher sharks are often sighted leaping above the surface as they feed.