Ocean Animals: Pelagic Thresher Shark

By December 3, 2013 Ocean Animals

Name of the Species: Pelagic Thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus)

Family Name: ALOPIIDAE: There are three species of sharks in this family.

Thresher Shark Alopias_vulpinus

Name of Habitat: Epipelagic. This means that the Pelagic Thresher shark uses the upper water column in the open ocean. It is a migratory species and moves between coastal waters and the open ocean in the Indo-Pacific Oceans.

Where it is found: Pelagic Thresher sharks are found throughout the Indo-Pacific. Click here to see the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUNC) range map for the species.

What it eats: Small-medium pelagic prey species such as squid, barracudinas, lightfishes, and escolars

How it contributes to the Ocean ecosystem: The Pelagic Thresher Shark is an apex predator feeding on many mid-water pelagic prey species. Because this species feeds in both the coastal and open ocean pelagic zone it may contribute to “habitat coupling”. Habitat coupling uses a mobile predator to move nutrients and energy between two habitat types.

Conservation Status: The Pelagic Thresher shark is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List. A classification of vulnerable means that the species has a high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. While the Pelagic Thresher is still relatively abundant in the wild, current unsustainable fishing practices threaten the species. Like most sharks the Pelagic Threshers won’t start reproducing until they are older (8-9 years in females) and they bare 2 large pups with each litter. These life history characteristic make it difficult for the sharks to reproduce enough young to replace the adults taken through fishing and so the population gets smaller over time. The Pelagic Threshers are frequently caught by gill nets and long-line fishers. They are targeted by some commercial and recreational fisheries and also caught as by-catch.

How to protect the species/habitat: Exploitation is the biggest threat to the Pelagic Thresher sharks. The best way to help this species is by only buying certified sustainable seafood. You can also participate in petitions calling for long-line fisheries to use circle hooks which have been shown (in some studies) to reduce the mortality non-target of sharks caught on a long-line.

Interesting Fact:  All Thresher sharks have an upper caudal lobe (top part of their tail) that is as long as their entire body. Recently it has been shown that these sharks use their tail as a whip to stun fish and other prey. The shark swim quickly at their prey, stops abruptly and swings its tail over its heads hitting and stunning their prey. Long-line fishers often find Thresher sharks hooked by their tail. Watch the video below to watch a video of this behavior!

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