Imagine seeing a shark with a long thresher-like tail with a can be as long as the total body length, up close. Introducing Thresher Sharks!
Thresher Sharks can only be consistently spotted in a few places around the world, and one of them is off the coast of the island of Malapascua in the Philippines at sunken island of Monad Shoal.
They’re mostly known for the size of their tail (“upper caudal fin lobe”), which is typically equal to the length of the rest of their body! Check out this below photo:
Why do Thresher Sharks have large tails? Thresher sharks are active predators – they use their huge tails not only to swim, but also to swat and stun much smaller prey fish. Whack! When hunting schooling fish, thresher sharks are known to “slap” the water, herding and stunning prey.
What do Thresher Sharks eat? Thresher sharks eat squid, octopuses, crustaceans and small schooling fish such as bluefish, mackerel, needlefish, lancetfish, lanternfish, and more.
How big are Thresher sharks? Threshers range from 8 feet long on the small end, to as big as 20-25 feet long! That’s 2.5 meters to 7.5 meters. 1,100 lbs!
The scientific name of the three most common thresher sharks are Alopias vulpinus, Alopias superciliosus, and Alopias pelagicus. Below is a diagram from this site:
How are thresher sharks like the dolphins?? Thresher sharks are one of the few shark species known to jump fully out of the water, making turns like dolphins, this behaviour is called breaching. Here’s a photo and example for a thresher shark that wandered towards Europe, jumping out of the water.
Videos of thresher sharks:
Where can you find Thresher Sharks? They are generally not found deeper than 500 meters (1,640ft). You can find thresher sharks everywhere from off the coast of southern California to South Africa, but there’s not many dive sites that see them with such regularity.
The best place to spot thresher sharks is in the Philippines at Malapascua island, Monad Shoal called Shark Wall.
Why is Monad Shoal the best place to spot Thresher Sharks? Why do thresher sharks go there? Monad Shoal near Malapascua is a sunken island at 18-24m whose sides drop off to 230m. The thresher sharks live and hunt in this deep water for most of the day, but in the early morning, before it gets too light, they come up to the Shoal, attracted by its cleaning stations. Here they have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the small fish called cleaning wrasse which eat dead skin and bacteria from the shark’s body, its gills, and even inside its mouth. Because the cleaning benefits these huge animals, the sharks would never think of eating the wrasse as an early morning snack. The cleaning stations are like a carwash for fish!
Most boring dive ever! While I find thresher sharks to be fascinating, the actual dive was actually the least interesting SCUBA Diving experience I’ve ever had. You depart around 430am, so you arrive before sunrise. There’s almost no fish or coral and once you get to the optimal viewing spot, you just sit on the ocean floor. Yes really. Visibility was poor. We sat on the ocean floor doing nothing but waiting and watching for 15 minutes of the dive. Eventually we were rewarded with a thresher shark whizzing past us. Other divers said people often spot Manta rays and schools of devil rays, in addition to hammer head sharks and reef sharks. Also common near the cleaning station are batfish, flutemouths, barracuda, tuna, mantis shrimp, pipefish, scorpionfish, free-swimming lionfish, moorish idols, schooling bannerfish, unicornfish, squid, octopus and various moray eels.
How to get there?
Getting to Malapascua to see Thresher Sharks isn’t easy. Fly into Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines. Then arrange a private taxi for 4 hours up to a tiny town of Maya (there’s an unreliable bus but I don’t recommend it – it randomly doesn’t come on many days). You’ll need one of the local fisherman to take you to the boat for a small fee, and then there’s a ferry that “leaves promptly at 8am” (more likely whenever it’s full). They operate on frustrating Philippine Time / Filipino Time, so schedules are never strictly adhered to. That’s quite a bit of effort, but once you get there, Malapascua Island is wonderful!
My other shark experiences in Asia: While I started my trip terrified of sharks, over just a few months I’d end up swimming with massive Whale Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Blackfin Reef Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, and now the experience SCUBA diving with Thresher Sharks.