I went diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua Island in the Philippines and loved it!
SCUBA Diving with Thresher Sharks – Philippines
Imagine seeing a shark with a long tail that can be as long as the total body length. Threshers can only be consistently spotted in a few places in the world, and the Philippines might be in the best. When I was in the Philippines I had to see them up close.
What we’ll cover
In this post I’ll cover why thresher sharks have such long tails, what thresher sharks eat, how big thresher sharks typically are, and where to find thresher sharks, in addition to showing some videos of threshers in motion. I’ll also detail my specific experience SCUBA diving to see thresher sharks at the bottom of this page as well.
What’s a Thresher Shark?
Thresher sharks are 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.
Thresher diet – what do they 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??
Threshers are one of the few shark species known to jump fully out of the water, making turns like dolphins, this behaviour is called breaching. For example, here’s a photo and example for a thresher shark that wandered towards Europe, jumping out of the water.
Videos: Diving with 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 in the world to spot thresher sharks is in the Philippines off the coast of Malapascua Island in the Visayan Sea, located across a shallow strait from the northernmost tip of Cebu Island, at the sunken island sea mount of Monad Shoal at a dive site that’s now called Shark Wall.
Why is Monad Shoal the best place to spot Thresher Sharks?
Why do thresher sharks go there? Monad Shoal is near the Filipino island of Malapascua – it’s 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. However, in the early morning before daylight light, they come up to the Shoal. They’re attracted by its “cleaning stations.”
Here they have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the small fish called cleaning wrasse. The wrasse eat dead skin and bacteria from the shark’s body, its gills, and even inside its mouth. Because the cleaning benefits them, so they’d never think of eating the wrasse as an early morning snack.
The cleaning stations are like a carwash for fish!
My experience SCUBA Diving with Thresher Sharks
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, in order to arrive before sunrise. The top of the sea mount is about 80 feet down. There’s almost no fish or coral. Once you get to the optimal viewing spot, you just sit on the ocean floor. Yes really. Visibility is often poor.
We sat on the ocean floor doing nothing but waiting and watching for 24 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.
This 1st video below is a 9 minute chronicle of the experience. Also, it’s fairly similar to ours (except they saw a Manta Ray, aka Devil Ray):
Next, here are two more videos of thresher shark videos:
How to get to Malapascua to see Thresher Sharks?
Getting to Malapascua Island
Getting to the island to see Thresher Sharks isn’t easy. Start by flying into Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines. Then arrange a private taxi for 4 hours up to a tiny town of Maya. Note, 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 it’s whenever it’s full, which can be either on time or hours later). 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!
Additional info at MarineBio, Wiki, and here.
My other shark experiences in Asia:
While I started my trip terrified of sharks, over just a few months I’d end up SCUBA diving with massive Whale Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Blackfin Reef Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, and more.