navigation

Atlantic Common Thresher Shark

Alopias vulpinus

Illustration of an Atlantic Common Thresher Shark

Also Known As

  • Thresher shark
  • Fox shark
  • Sea fox
  • Swingletail
  • Whiptail shark
  • Thintail shark

U.S. wild-caught Atlantic common thresher shark is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

The stock has never been assessed. The population level is unknown, but presumed stable.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level.

Habitat Impacts

Gear used to harvest Atlantic common thresher shark does not contact the ocean floor and has no impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Bycatch is low because Atlantic common thresher sharks are primarily incidental catch in other fisheries.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from New York to North Carolina. 

  • Taste

    Mild flavor.

  • Texture

    Firm and dense.

  • Color

    Raw meat is white to tan with a pink blood line.

  • Health Benefits

    Shark is high in protein and low in fat. It is a good source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and selenium. More information on health and seafood.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • In 2016, commercial landings of Atlantic common thresher shark totaled 78,219 pounds and were valued at $74,887.
    • To commercially harvest Atlantic sharks, vessel owners must obtain a valid Atlantic shark directed or incidental limited access permit or a smoothhound shark open access permit.  More information regarding limited access permits can be found in the Atlantic HMS fishery compliance guides.
    • Most of this catch comes from New Jersey and North Carolina. 
    • Common thresher sharks are part of the pelagic shark complex. 
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Atlantic common thresher sharks are primarily caught incidentally in longline fisheries targeting swordfish and tuna. 
    • Gear used to catch common thresher sharks does not impact habitat since it does not contact the ocean floor.
    • Fishermen are required to use circle hooks on pelagic longlines to reduce bycatch of sea turtles. All pelagic longline fishing vessels must also carry safe handling and release gear to help in returning any unintentionally caught protected species to the sea safely.
    • Fishermen using longline or gillnet gear must complete a protected species safe handling, release, and identification workshop.
    • Certain areas are closed to fishing to protect nursery areas, sensitive habitats, and populations.
    • Vessel monitoring systems ensure fishermen are complying with area closures.
  • Recreational fishermen fish for common thresher sharks, mainly with rod-and-reel gear.
    • Recreational fishermen must have an Atlantic HMS permit to harvest Atlantic common thresher sharks in federal waters.  As of January 1, 2018, all HMS recreational permit holders will need a “shark endorsement” to fish for, retain, possess, or land sharks. 
    • In addition to the shark endorsement, fishermen fishing recreationally for sharks will be required to use circle hook in most places. Circle hooks are less likely to be caught in the thresher shark’s long tail, increasing the survival of sharks that are caught and released.  For more information regarding these requirements, please refer to HMS regulations and the Amendment 5b compliance guide.​
    • Sharks must be a minimum size to be caught, and there is a limit on how many sharks can be caught per fishing trip.

The Science

Population Status

  • Atlantic common thresher sharks have never been assessed and the population status is unknown. The fishing rate has been kept at the recommended level.
  • The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas conducted an ecological risk assessment for pelagic sharks caught in Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries and ranked thresher sharks as the least vulnerable to these fisheries and more productive than the other species included in the risk assessment.

Location

  • Common thresher sharks are found in temperate waters around the world. 
  • In the northwest Atlantic Ocean, they range from Newfoundland to Cuba.

Habitat

  • Common thresher sharks are highly migratory species, often traveling over entire ocean basins.
  • They’re most common near land and are often found in areas rich with plankton, where their prey is also abundant. 

Physical Description

  • Thresher sharks are brown, gray, blue-gray, or blackish on the back and underside of their snout.
  • They are lighter on the sides, and fully white below.
  • Their pectoral, pelvic, and dorsal fins are blackish, and there are sometimes white dots on the tips of the pectoral, pelvic, and tail fins.
  • Their tail fin is sickle-shaped, and the upper part is extremely long, about half the length of their body. 

Biology

  • Common thresher sharks live a long time (19 to 50 years), reproduce late in life, and have only a few young at a time.
  • They grow slowly, but can reach up to 20 feet long.
  • Males sexually mature when they’re 8 to 11 feet long and 3 to 6 years old. Females are able to reproduce when they’re 8 to 9 feet long and 4 to 5 years of age. 
  • Common thresher sharks mate in late summer. Eggs are fertilized internally and develop within the mother. Females bear live, fully developed young after a long gestation period (9 months), and only have a few pups.
  • Common thresher sharks are aggressive predators that feed near the top of the food chain on schooling fish such as herring and mackerel and occasionally on squid and seabirds. 
  • They are named for their long, scythe-like tail, which is used to stun fish before preying on them.
  • Adult common thresher sharks have few predators, but younger, smaller ones may fall prey to larger sharks.

Research

  • Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the University of Rhode Island are conducting age and growth studies on thresher sharks. Scientists are also studying the life history of thresher sharks, including reproductive and food habits.
  • NOAA Fisheries runs the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program to study the life history of Atlantic sharks. Started in 1962, the program involves thousands of recreational and commercial fishermen, scientists, and fisheries observers. Participants tag large coastal and pelagic sharks and record information about the shark (date and location where caught, gear used, and the size and sex of the shark).
    • Data from this program provide valuable information on shark migrations, help increase our understanding of shark biology, and improve management of the resource.

Last updated: 09/05/2018