Thresher Sharks

Finally we’ve come to Malapascua. This tiny island in the northern Visayas is said to be the only place in the world where divers can predictably see thresher sharks, a predator named for its long thresher-like tail. This also makes Malapascua THE place for recreational divers to see a deep-sea shark species close up at a comfortable 20-meter depth. Needless to say, Tony was as ecstatic as I was anxious about the thought of being in such close proximity to real sharks.

Embedded video similar to what we saw

Although thresher sharks are regularly sighted at Monad Shoal, a giant underwater plateau, there is no guarantee you will see these shy animals on your first dive. Our first time down, we ended up sitting near the edge of the rather featureless plateau staring out at an empty cleaning station. (A cleaning station is a spot on the shoal where schools of cleaner wrasse swarm around larger pelagics like sharks and mantas picking the parasites off them.) We were a bit hesitant to shell out more money to stare at nothing, but I’m glad we did.

Our second dive was much more successful. Just moments after hitting the 21 meter mark, a grey form slithering by in the distance made it clear that we were being watched. Suddenly, our divemaster pointed behind us and the shark emerged from the darkness cutting past us in full view. Strangely, I wasn’t afraid at all but rather entranced by the sharks abnormally long serpentine tail. It’s hard to estimate the length of a thresher, but it was probably around 2.5 m (8 ft) long with another 2.5 m of tail – that’s pretty big for something that bites.

When the shark disappeared into the depths, we set off across the plateau to a second cleaning station in hope of another sighting. A school of barracuda and a lone squid indicated that there was more life at Monad Shoal than I had initially thought. All of a sudden, another shark appeared along the edge of the shoal. As I was taking in the sight, a second shark came into view off to the right. The two sharks circled curiously eyeing us.

You would think that two large sharks circling would inspire fear – but I felt none. Perhaps, it was the shark’s long tail fin that calmed me down as it was swaying beautifully from side to side (this was before our divemaster told us that the shark had recently lashed out with its tail at an underwater photographer smashing his camera in the process). When our 30 minutes were up, we had counted 8 sightings of several different sharks. Absolutely stunning!

Again, we are using another diver’s video because we lost our dive camera in Sabang. It gives you a good idea of what divers see on their thresher shark dive.

Tips on Thresher Shark Spotting in Malapascua

Some dive centers in Malapascua only allow advanced/experienced divers to visit Monad Shoal even though the dive is normally relatively easy. It’s worth asking around. Plan for several dives at the thresher shark site. Visibility can be limited and you might just miss a shark if it doesn’t come within 10 meters of where you are. Dive shops often suggest sitting at one cleaning station for best viewing. Our research online and discussions with fellow divers suggest this might be more an issue of managing large numbers of thresher shark divers rather than best viewing practice.

2 responses to “Thresher Sharks”

  1. Thomas, when did you become such an outstanding writer? I mean, really, really great.

  2. avatar plutocrat says:

    Looks like you had a great time in Malapascua. I live in the Philippines, and its one of my favourite places. Anyway, while I was there I noticed there was no good map, so I made one on Openstreetmap. I hope other readers heading there find it useful.

    And please feel free to contribute and add details I missed. Its a collaborative effort.

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