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Thresher Sharks

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thresher shark, Alopias vulpinus, Island
Franco Banfi/WaterFrame/Getty Images
The most notable feature of thresher sharks are the long, whip-like upper lobe of their tail (caudal fin). There are 3 species of thresher sharks - the common thresher (Alopias vulpinus), pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus) and the bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus).

Description:

Thresher sharks have big eyes, a small mouth, large pectoral fins, first dorsal fin and pelvic fins. They have a small second dorsal fin (near their tail) and anal fins. Their most noticeable characteristic, as noted above, is that the top lobe of their tail is unusually long and whip-like. This tail may be used to herd and stun small fish, upon which it preys.

Depending on the species, thresher sharks may be grey, blue, brown or purplish above and light gray to white below their pectoral fins. They can grow to a maximum of about 20 feet in length. These sharks are sometimes seen jumping out of the water.

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Subclass: Elasmobranchii
  • Order: Lamniformes
  • Family: Alopiidae
  • Genus: Alopias
  • Species: vulpinus, pelagicus or superciliosus

Distribution:

Thresher sharks are widely distributed across the world's temperate and subtropical oceans.

Feeding:

Thresher sharks eat schooling fish, cephalopods, and sometimes crabs and shrimp.

Reproduction:

Thresher sharks reproduce each year and are ovoviviparous, meaning that eggs develop inside the mother's body, but the young are not attached by a placenta. The embryos feed on eggs in the uterus. After 9 months gestation, females give birth to two to seven live young who are 3-5 feet long at birth.

Shark Attacks:

According to the International Shark Attack File, thresher sharks are not commonly involved in shark attacks.

Conservation:

NOAA estimates that populations of Pacific thresher sharks are above target levels, but lists the status of common threshers in the Atlantic as unknown.

Thresher sharks may be caught as bycatch and hunted recreationally.

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, thresher shark meat and fins are valuable, their skin can be made into leather and the oil in their liver can be used for vitamins.

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