Thresher sharks kill their prey using their impressive tails, which are about half the size of their body, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by Simon Oliver of the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, and colleagues, found that Thresher sharks hunt by whipping their tails at a school of sardines. These tail-slaps either kill the fish directly or stun them until the shark feeds on them.

The researchers used cameras to film the sharks' hunting style. They found that the sharks begin the whipping by drawing the "pectoral fins inward to lift their posteriors rapidly".

Sometimes these tail-slaps were so powerful that they caused air bubbles in water to escape. The shark ate about 3.5 sardines after every successful hunt, the team found.


"The interesting thing about it was that these tail slaps were only successful about 60% of the time," said Dr Oliver, BBC reported, "but when they were successful they managed to kill more than one prey item."

The tail of the thresher shark resembles the arc of a rainbow and is about 30 percent of the shark's body weight, with the tail alone weighing around 767 pounds. These sharks are found in the tropical and temperate seas around the world and feeds mainly on squid and fish.

The method of stunning prey with tails isn't restricted to the Thresher Sharks. Many large predators employ this trick to hunt schooling fish at a time. Humpback and sperm whales use tail- slapping to communicate while dolphins and killer whales use them to stun their prey.

"This extraordinary story highlights the diversity of shark hunting strategies in an ocean where top predators are forced to adapt to the complex evasion behaviours of their ever declining prey," said Oliver, according to a press release.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One.