Thresher sharks use their tails as whips while hunting to stun and kill their prey, which are mostly schools of sardines.
All animals have distinctive hunting techniques. While a snake uses its venom and a cheetah its speed, researchers of a new study found that thresher sharks use their tails.
Simon Oliver of the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project and his colleagues conducted a study wherein they observed thresher sharks while they hunted schools of sardines off a small coral island in the Philippines. Researchers used handheld video cameras to record the hunting process so that they could catch the action from close counters.
"This extraordinary story highlights the diversity of shark hunting strategies in an ocean where top predators are forced to adapt to the complex evasion behaviors of their ever declining prey," said Oliver in a press release, according to Planet Earth.
Oliver and his team found that the sharks used their impressive tails to either stun or "slap" their prey to death. He was able to capture 25 instances of the sharks whip lashing their tails on or very near fish. The sharks first drew their pectoral fins inward to lift their posteriors, rapidly followed by a forceful tail slapping series that were so hard that bubbles were observed coming out of the water, a result of the pressure differential created due to the speed of the tail lash.
"The interesting thing about it was that these tail slaps were only successful about 60% of the time," BBC News quoted Dr Oliver as saying. "But when they were successful they managed to kill more than one prey item. So it seems the strategy is efficient in that the shark is able to consume more than one fish at a time to balance out the times when it wasn't successful."
Scientists speculate that this tail slapping may also be a way sharks communicate with each other but studies need to be conducted to prove the speculations. Humpback and sperm whales slap their tails a lot, turning them into a sort of oceanic Morse code to communicate over long distances.
The findings of the study were published in PLOS.