Dr. Paul Chambers found this interesting shark record from 1569 which was identified by Richard Lord as a thresher shark Alopius vulpinus
The true discripcion of this marueilous straunge Fishe, whiche was taken on thursday was sennight, the .xvi. day of June, this present month, in the yeare of our Lord God. M. DLX. ix.
A declaration of the taking of this straunge Fishe, with the length & bredth. &c.

DOoing you to vnderstande, that on thursdaye the .xvi. daye of this present month of June, in ye yeare of our Lord God. MD. LV. ix. This straunge fishe (whych you see here picttured) was taken betweene Callis, and Douer, by sertayne English Fissher men, whych were a fyshynge for mackrell. And this straunge & merueylous Fyshe, folowynge after the scooles of Mackrell, came rushinge in to the fisher mens Netts, and brake and tore their nettes marueilouslie, in such sorte, that at the fyrst they weare muche amased ther at: and marueiled what it should bee, that kept suche a sturr with their Netts, for they were verie much harmed by it, with breking and spoyling their Netts.

And then they seing, and perceiuyng that the Netts wold not serue by reason of the greatnes of this straung Fishe, then they with such instruements, ingins, & thinges that they had: made such shift that they tooke this straung Fishe. And vppon fridaye the morowe after brought it vpp to Billynges gate in London, whyche was the .xvii. daye of June, and ther it was seene and vewid of manie which marueiled much at the straungnes of it. For here hath neuer the lyke of it ben seene: and on saterdaye, being the .xviii. daye, sertayne fishe mongers in new Fishstreat, agreeid with them that caught it, for, and in consideracion of the harme, whych they receiued by spoylinge of ther Netts, and for their paines, to haue this straunge fishe. And hauinge it, did open it and flaied of the skinn, and saued it hole. And adiudging the meat of it to be good, broyled a peece and tasted of hit, and it looked whit like Veale when it was broiled, and was good & sauerie, (though sumwhat straung) in the eating, and then they sold of it that same saterdaye, to suche as would buy of the same, and they them selues did bake of it, and eate it for daintie: and for the more serteintaintie and opening of the truth, the good men of the Castle and the Kinges head in new Fish streat, did but a great deale & bakte of it, and this is moste true.

THis straunge Fishe is in length .xvii. foote, and .iii. foote broad, and in compas about the bodie .vi. foote. and proporcioned as you see here by this picture, and is round snowted, short headdid as you see, hauing .iii. ranckes of teeth on eyther iawe, maruaylous sharpe and very short .ii. eyes growing neare his snout, & as big as a horses eyes, and his hart as big as an Oxes hart, & like wyse his liuer and lightes bige as an Oxes, but all the garbidge yt was in hys bellie besides, would haue gone in to a felt hat. Also .ix. finns, & .ii. of the sormost bee .iii. quarters of a yeard longe from the body: & a verie big one on the fore parte of his backe, as you see h[...] by this picture, blackish on the backe & a litle whitishe on the belly, a slender tayle, and had but one bone & that was a great rydge bone runninge a longe his backe, from the head vnto the tayle, and had great force in his tayle when he was in the water. Also it hath .v. gills of eache side of the head, shoing white as you see. Ther is no proper name for it that I knowe but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses, doth call it a Sharke. And it is to bee seene in London, at the red Lyon, in Flete streete.


Reply by Richard Lord:

This is a description of a thresher shark.    The drawing matches a thresher shark most closely.   It is the drawing that convinces me that this shark is a thresher shark.  Otherwise the drawing would be too fanciful.  The long thin tapering tail makes no sense for any shark other than a thresher if you consider that the long, thin tail doesn’t represent the whole tail but only the upper lobe of the caudal fin.  I think the drawing is actually quite accurate.

The length of the shark at 17 feet would be too long for a porbeagle shark but it is the correct size for a large thresher.   The drawing of the head in the illustration is a close match to the head of a thresher shark.   The “round snowted, short headed” indicates it was most likely a lamnoid and a thresher has a short head.  It was chasing mackerel, which is what thresher’s feed on – more than any other shark.  Its meat tasted good like veal.   Thresher shark has good quality, tasty meat that tastes like veal.  The description doesn’t recount triangular teeth but sharp, short teeth “maruaylous sharpe and very short” which matches the description of thresher sharks too. 

I have annotated the 1569 drawing and attached two photos I have taken of thresher sharks.  One was caught on 10 November 1999 off Guernsey’s south coast and the last one I photographed, which weighed over 160 KGs was caught in Guernsey waters on the 26 April 2006.   This shark had a total length of 404 cm (13 π feet).   Much bigger threshers than this have been caught in UK waters.  See http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/latest/display.var.1597207.0.monster_shark_landed_off_isle_of_wight.php  for a very recent capture.

Sun 23/09/2007 16:39
Paul replied:

Thanks for the pics. Looking at them, I have no doubt that you are correct. A Thresher Shark it most certainly was. I'm impressed not only at your ability to identify an animal that has been dead for over four centuries, but that a 16th century description is good enough to permit a modern identification. The sheet was promoting an item that was on display in London and as such the description given would usually be exaggerated to help pull in the punters. Also, the specimen itself would frequently be surgically enhanced to make it more attractive to the public. I have, for example, a drawing of a monkfish that had been doctored to make it look like a mermaid.

Dear Richard and Henry,
The original pamphlet is in the British Library (London); its shelfmark is HMNTS Huth50.(41.)
The BL catalogue entry is as follows:
System number 003021312
Author - personal R., C.
Title The true discription of this marueilous straunge Fishe, whiche was taken on thursday was sennight, the .xvi. day of Iune, this present month, in the yeare of our Lord God .M.DLX.IX. [Signed: C. R. With a woodcut.] B.L.
Publisher/year Thomas Colwell: London, [1569.]
Physical descr. s. sh. fol.
Holdings (All) Details
Shelfmark Huth50.(41.) Request
I did not see the original but found a reproduction of it in a database of early English works held at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House (London). Paul