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Friday, March 31, 2023

Shark with huge tail washed ashore in ‘rare’ find

A strange shark with a remarkably large tail has washed up on a beach in South Africa in a “very rare” sighting.

Wildlife photographers Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead stumbled across the shark’s carcass while visiting Cape Town’s Sunset Beach last Tuesday. The couple took several photos of the animal, which they identified as a juvenile common thresher shark.

These sharks, which can grow up to 20 feet long as adults, are known for their huge, scythe-like tail fins. The upper lobe of their fins makes up about half of the total body length.

Scientifically known as Alopiasvulpinusthe common thresher shark is the largest of the three species of thresher shark in the family Alopidae. Aside from the huge caudal fin, the species is notable for its streamlined body, short, pointed snout, and medium-sized eyes.

Common thresher sharks are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide. They usually congregate in the open ocean, but the sharks sometimes come closer to shore. According to Oregon State University, the species is most common within about 40 miles of the coast.

Thresher sharks have remarkable abilities. They can use their long tails to herd fish before using them to stun and kill them. They are also capable of leaping completely out of the water – one of the few sharks with this ability – a behavior known as breaching.

Alex Aitkenhead narrates news week that he recognized the shark when he encountered it on the beach but said he had “never seen one”.

“At the time, knowing this shark, we didn’t realize the significance of such a find,” Aitkenhead said. ‚ÄúThis shark was in very good condition – no damage or signs of injury or predation. The only noticeable thing was that the eyes were missing, but that’s common.”

This suggests the shark was in the water for a day or two after it died, which Aitkenhead says gave smaller fish an opportunity to eat its eyes, the softest part of its body.

Sightings of the shark, like the one that washed up on Sunset Beach, are “very rare” in the area, Aitkenhead said. It has been several years since a thresher shark washed ashore in Cape Town.

“It’s not often that we see this remarkable shark,” Aitkenhead told IOL News. “I’m not sure why this teen washed up on our shore at Sunset Beach.”

Cape Town Deputy Mayor Eddie Andrews agreed that it is not common for this species to wash ashore in the area.

All three thresher shark species are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, with some populations believed to be in decline.

These sharks are intentionally targeted for their valuable meat and fins, but are also accidentally caught by fisheries.

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