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Captain’s Log: The Bullwhip-Like Tail of a Thresher Shark

“Long, sinuous and deadly” is a good way to describe the elongated tail of a thresher shark. It is the shark’s gun, fist and kick. Watching one use its tail is a study in practiced deadly force.

These critters hunt so cooly and coldly. They will swim alongside a school of baitfish (anchovies, sardines, jacksmelt, mackerel, etc.) in a very casual manner as if not to appear menacing. As the shark pulls gently ahead, it suddenly unleashes its tail, whacking the hapless baitfish silly. While the baitfish are dazed, the shark turns on them and feeds.

Wise anglers fishing for thresher shark show a great deal of respect for those tails. I’ve been clocked in the head myself, by a shark I thought was spent. Nope, I think it was just lining me up in its sights.

“What T-sharks do with their tail is like swinging a brick on the end of a rope,” said Capt. Tiffany Vague, store manager at Hook, Line & Sinker fishing center in Santa Barbara. “It is devastating.”

T-sharks are here. Each year they show up about this time of year and forage in our waters. We will target them from our charterboat, WaveWalker.

Besides being fun to catch, they are also delicious. When we bring one on board, we clear the passengers from the deck area because that shark will be angry and menacing. That’s when Capt. Tiffany pounces on the shark and pins it to the deck. It’s her thing. You gotta see it to believe it.

Some spots where threshers can be found are from Carpinteria (right off of where that sign read, “World’s Safest Beach”) to the rock island near La Conchita. Right out front of Santa Barbara Harbor is another spot, as are Goleta Beach and Gaviota Beach. During the summer and early fall, anglers at Goleta Pier target T-sharks with surprising success, using specialized rigging techniques. I advise anglers to release any T-shark under about 70 pounds because they are juveniles.

One really cute story to share is how fun it is to watch a baby thresher learn to use its tail. When born, they are only 8 to 9 pounds, on average. Even at that point, their tail is as long as the body. While very young, they will poke their tail up out of the surface of the sea and practice flailing it. This looks like they are stirring a drink from under the surface. It is a riot. We always cheer and wave.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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