Thresher sharks in your sights? Head for Malapascua in the Philippines, that's Franco Banfi's advice
WE ARE READY WITH ALL the photo equipment in front of Sea Explorers Diving Centre. It's 5am when our dive guide arrives. Martin is a local diver who knows Monad Shoal like nobody else. Monad is the reef where you can see the elusive thresher shark. A few minutes later we are leaving the beach on a bangka, an outrigger boat. It's still dark, but we know that the sun will rise just before we start our dive. The first rays provide the signal to begin our descent. The reef is a flat plateau rising from the depths to 20-25m and the water is a comfortably warm 28?C, but visibility is not the best, and it's still dark for my camera. Martin leads us from place to place for half an hour without success. Then he suddenly starts to shout into his regulator, and to point. The long-tailed silhouette appears from nowhere ahead of us, disappearing but reappearing seconds later and passing before us again. The thresher seems unafraid, but we hardly dare to breathe. Alopias vulpinus is a big shark, with a robust, cylindrical body, a small mouth with tiny, sharp teeth, and very big eyes to help it see in the dark. It grows to 5-6m long, about half of this accounted for by the scythe-like tail after which it is named. Threshers eat squid and schooling fish such as herring and mackerel, and it is thought that they use their tails to 'corral' the fish into denser schools. Thresher-shark sightings are not guaranteed in Malapascua, but you have more chance of seeing one than in most parts of the world. Monad Shoal is a beautiful reef with colourful fish and invertebrate life and you will enjoy a dive here anyway, but the sight of a thresher shark makes it extra-special.
Sea Explorers Diving Centre, www.sea-explorers.com
DID YOU KNOW THAT THRESHER SHARKS...
Have tails so large they account for more than a third of their body weight and half their total length?
Are solitary and rarely seen near the shore?
Use their tails to herd prey, and even to stun sardines or mackerel?
Can leap out of the water if threatened or provoked?
Have young that can feed on weaker siblings in the womb - known as uterine cannibalism?