The Greek name for thresher shark is Alopias meaning fox. This stems from their oversized big eyes and small mouths. They have a graceful scythe-shaped tail, which can be up to half the size of their body. They slap these large tails in the water to stun schooling fish and are often seen breaching when they do this, or at a cleaning station. This slender caudal fin snakes from side to side, propelling them purposefully at speed.
Their eyes are huge, designed for the deep Mesopelagic Zone (up to 700 metres) where they spend most of their time, hiding from predators and munching on tasty squid. They are known to ascend shallower in some parts of the world at sunrise for a spa conducted by cleaner wrasse. The bronze, muscly flanks of the thresher shark are unmistakable, catching the light above its long pectoral fins.
There are 3 species. The smallest and most common is the pelagic thresher. The common and the bigeye thresher sharks tend to be larger, but they all equally at risk, mainly from the fishing industry. Their status on the IUCN red List is vulnerable, with a slow maturity rate and low reproduction rate of between just 2-4 pups each year. They are also incredibly shy!
While dive operators will never guarantee sightings of the majestic thresher shark, there are some areas across the globe where you are more likely to catch a glimpse than others. See our guide below:
- Phillipines – Malapascua Island and Pescador Island
Monad Shoal is an underwater sea mount 30 minutes from Malapascua. Just under a mile long, it is the world’s prime location for diving with pelagic threshers. There is a strict code of practice in place here to protect the cleaning stations, where divers are encouraged to hover horizontally or fin-pivot behind strategically-placed ropes. No reef = no cleaner wrasse = no thresher shark beauty parlour.
Expect an early 4am start. The sharks will come up to shallow water only at night and prior to sunrise.
Also in the Philippines is a colossal baitball of sardines along the shoreline of Moalboal and Pescador Island, where you might be lucky enough to see thresher sharks bullwhipping their tail to catch a tasty snack!
- Red Sea, Egypt – Big Brother
The Brothers are impressive offshore reefs, located 40 miles east from El Quseir. Expect an 8-hour journey into the middle of the Red Sea on one of the many liveaboards that operate out of Hurghada or Marsa Alam. Declared a Marine Protected area in 1983, Big Brother attracts thresher sharks and other pelagics thanks to the nutrients carried on shifting currents that move down the Red Sea. Over the winter months, a population can be spotted on the spectacular vertical walls where the currents meet, as well as early morning off the southern plateau. They can also be seen in May/June time when the weather is calmer.
- Indonesia – Alor and Bali
In the southern part of the Coral Triangle within the East Nusa Tenggara Province sits Alor Island. The Pantar Strait Marine Park is a chain of volcanic islands boasting some of the most pristine coral reefs in the area. From March to December on Alor’s exhilarating drift diving sites you might be lucky enough to see highly migratory species like thresher sharks, hammerheads and even blue whales. Alor is an important birthing ground for thresher sharks and since 2018 the Thresher Shark Project Indonesia has been working alongside the shark fishing communities to increase their protection, while providing more sustainable alternatives to those who survive off natural resources.
Mola Mola season in Bali (July to October) also brings thresher shark sightings in areas of deep water near Ahmed, Nusa Lembongan and Tepekong.
- Maldives - Fuvahmulah
Fuvahmulah in the southern Maldives is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve close to the equator. Situated between Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and Addu Atoll in the far south of the Maldives, this small island boasts a 3 kilometre long reef. Still largely unexplored, this quiet and undeveloped area is a magnet for large oceanic sharks and manta rays. The ocean currents around Fuvahmulah have created cleaning stations and nurseries. Exciting drift dives through nutrient-rich channels may be rewarded with sightings of tiger and thresher sharks. The north-east monsoon from December through to March is driest, but there is good diving all year round.
- Great Barrier Reef, Australia – Osprey Reef
A teardrop-shaped atoll in the northern Coral Sea, Osprey Reef is one of the most remote areas of the Great Barrier Reef. It is accessible only by liveaboard and is known for its astounding visibility and steep soft coral walls, with depths of up to 1000 metres!
A deep water trough separates it from the continental shelf, creating a rich marine environment. Enjoy caverns created by massive swell and water movement through the lagoon, bringing nutrient-filled water. This attracts large pelagics such as trevally, barracuda and of course many species of shark. Prime season is any time from June to August, but there are good conditions all year round.