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evolution diving resort malapascua, philippines

The Thresher Sharks of Malapascua

Malapascua is about the only place in the world where recreational divers can encounter Thresher Sharks on a near daily basis.  Thresher Sharks are natural deep dwellers, spending the vast majority of their time at depths well below recreational and often Technical diving limits.

There are three species of Thresher Shark, distributed around the globe.  In Malapascua we see The Pelagic Thresher Shark (as opposed to Bigeyes or The Common Thresher Shark).

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Local fisherman have known for decades, if not centuries that Monad Shoal is home to Thresher Sharks.  Fisherman have been attracted by the fishing potential of the sunken plateau that is Monad Shoal and while there they would regularly see a Thresher Shark breaching.  The Thresher Shark is one of a few species that likes to leap from the water and our boat crew (and occasionally customers) still witness this behaviour on a weekly basis. As news of this breaching phenomenon spread it was eventually investigated by divers coming through the area on Liveaboards.

These early divers were amazed to see Thresher Sharks so close and for such a long time . . . and the rest is history.There is something extremely special about Monad Shoal and the Thresher Sharks are a small part of a complex ecosystem and behaviour dynamic that scientists are still trying to understand.  It is currently believed that a typical Thresher Shark migrates to the area for the service of specific cleaner fish (Moon Wrasee, Blue Head Fairy Wrasse and others) found on the plateau top (and deeper) of Monad Shoal.

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Image by Tony Exall

The Thresher Shark is compelled to seek out this cleaning service by the myriad of pea sized parasites (Copepods) living on its body.  The Thresher Shark may also breach in an effort to flush irritating parasites from its gills but this remains uncertain.  Scientists researching the Thresher Shark – part of the Thresher Shark Project – believe that the Thresher Shark population of Malapascua is in flux.  We do not have resident Thresher Sharks, instead we have a constantly changing Thresher Shark population – animals drawn from far and wide by Monad Shoal – an incredible phenomenon in itself.  How wide is yet to be determined but it could include the entire archipelago of The Philippines.  Scientists have yet to tag a Thresher Shark here as the attrition rate remains too high with this species.

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Of course the Thresher Shark is not the only visitor to Malapascua, with giant Pelagic Mantas, Devil Rays, White Tip Reef Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks spotted and catalogued with great frequency.  Incredibly these creatures often share the same cleaning station at the same time – behaviour almost unheard of.The Thresher Shark is of course famous for its beguiling long tail.  It is understood that The Thresher Shark uses its tail to hunt, whipping it with such ferocity that it stuns prey such as squid, sardines and perhaps juvenile tuna.  The Thresher Shark does not predate on Crustacea like many other species of shark.

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Image by Evolution Diver Marcel Speiss

The Thresher Shark is an endangered species and remains vulnerable to extinction, especially due to its low fecundity, or frequency of reproduction.  Amazingly the Thresher Shark always gives birth to two pups, one male and one female, and how this occurs remains a  mystery.  The female Thresher Shark also gestates for a non specific length of time.  She may opt to give birth early if she feels there is a bountiful food supply, or she may delay delivery by some time in order to find a more suitable location.  Once delivered, the female Thresher Shark gives her new born no further maternal care.  The Thresher Shark pups are born fully formed and are delivered folded over allowing them start their life already equipped with their scythe like tail.

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Image by Tony Exall

To see a Thresher Shark here in Malapascua is a once in a life time experience and one we love sharing with our divers.  However we don’t want to prevent the next generation of divers from seeing a Thresher Shark so we require all our customers to respect the already damaged reef and to not contribute further to the degradation of one of the most important marine sites in Asia.  Good buoyancy and a respect for the environment are prerequisites for a Thresher Shark dive at Monad Shoal, something we believe all divers should aspire to!!

Evolution is the leading specialist for Thresher Shark encounters in the world.  Like all dive shops we bring our recreational customers to see the Thresher Sharks in the morning.  However we are the only dive centre capable of bringing our customers to see the Thresher Sharks at depths ranging between 30 metres to 100 metres.  Evolution has logged hundreds of shark sightings at various depths including a recent and incredible encounter at 100 metres during an Advanced Trimix Dive.

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Many thanks to The Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project for helping Evolution and our customers understand this magnificent animal more thoroughly.

If you want to come and see a Thresher Shark up close then contact us here at info@evolution.com.ph