This month we're showcasing the super agile, fish-herding, thresher sharks. Made up of 3 different species, these sharks can whip up dinner at lightning speed...

Thresher Sharks are found in tropical and temperate seas all over the world. Highly migratory, they spend their time in coastal waters as well as the wide-open ocean. By day you'll likely find them in deep waters, avoiding predators and dining on squid and octopus. But at night, they rise to the surface to hunt small fish.

During daylight hours they may also indulge in a spa. Taking regular trips into shallow coastal waters to visit cleaning stations. Here they get preened and pampered by hungry cleaner fish, who remove pesky parasites picked up during their long travels.

Yet, they are capable of doing this themselves. When cleaner fish are off duty, threshers will remove parasites by breaching out of the water. Check out the photo below - what an incredible sight to see!

Thresher Shark Breaching © Steve Momot / Wikimedia Commons

To survive in cold deep waters, threshers – like the White Shark and Shortfin Mako - are endothermic. They have a network of tiny blood capillaries, which acts as a heat exchange system. Known as a rete mirabile, this keeps them nice and toasty. In fact, their body temperature can be 10°C warmer than the surrounding water.

But the most distinctive and exciting adaptation of thresher sharks is - of course - their incredibly long, whip-like tail. Shaped like a scythe, this marks impending doom for schooling fish. Making up around half the length of their entire body, their tails can reach up to 3m long! And they’re not just for show...

Hunting in small packs, threshers will use their tail to herd small shoaling fish - such as mackerel, herring and sardines. They’ll then charge into the shoal, thrashing their powerful tail, injuring and stunning their prey. Dazed and confused fish are then swiftly eaten. Larger individuals will also feed on bigger fish, like cod and tuna, as well as large deep-sea squid.

The first part of the thresher sharks’ scientific name is ‘Alopias’, which is Greek for fox. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Aristotle thought these sharks must have been as clever as a fox to avoid the nets and traps of fishermen. But sadly, this isn’t the case today. Due to modern destructive fishing practices, all 3 thresher shark species now face a high risk of extinction.


Bluish to dark grey in colour, the Common Thresher has a pointed snout and small arched mouth.

Depending on the region, females reach maturity between 3 and 13 years. Males between 3 and 8 years. Females will give birth to litters of 2-6 pups in spring/summer, which can be as large as 1.5m! They’re thought to live up to 38 years.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Alopias vulpinus

  • FAMILY: Alopiidae

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 5.8m

  • DIET: Fish and squid.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Most tropical and temperate seas around the world. They have a higher tolerance for cold water, than other thresher shark species.

  • HABITAT: Coastal waters to the open ocean, from the surface to 650m deep.



As their name suggests Bigeye Threshers have enormous eyes. These help them navigate and hunt in deep dark waters, and at night. Their eyes can be up to 10cm in diameter and sit within a keyhole-shaped socket, enabling them to rotate their eyes upwards.

Purple to brown-grey in colour, they have the most beautiful metallic hues on their back and flanks.

After a 12-month gestation period, females will give birth to litters of 2 (rarely 4) pups. These can be up to 1.4m long and may live up to 20 years.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Alopias pelagicus

  • FAMILY: Alopiidae

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 4.8m

  • DIET: Fish and squid.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Most tropical and temperate seas around the world.

  • HABITAT: Coastal waters to the open ocean, from the surface to 500m deep (usually 100m).



Out of the 3 species, Pelagic Threshers are the smallest and least well-known. Similar in colour to the Bigeye but lighter. They give birth to litters of 2 pups every year and are thought to live around 19 years.

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Alopias pelagicus

  • FAMILY: Alopiidae

  • MAXIMUM SIZE: 3.6m

  • DIET: Fish and squid.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Indo-Pacific Ocean

  • HABITAT: Coastal waters to the open ocean, from the surface to 300m deep.


Thresher Shark Activity Bundle - Great Out-Tours logo

Thresher Shark Activity Bundle

Discover more with the Thresher Shark Activity Bundle. Brought to you by award-winning outdoor education provider - The Great Out-Tours.

Created for children and adults in care homes, these bundles of fun will provide hours of entertainment.

Wordsearches, jigsaws, arts and crafts, educational videos, a family quiz and so much more. All jammed packed into this bundle for just £1, with 15p going to the Shark Trust!

Find out more about our shark bundles

Related Links:

► Check out more incredible sharks and rays covered in our Creature Features

► Discover more fin-tastic facts by visiting our Discover Sharks section

Image banner: Thresher Shark © Matt Newell.