The shortfin mako shark is a large, predatory shark that lives in the open ocean and reaches lengths of 12 feet (3.8 m) and weights of at least 1200 pounds (545 kg). With top speeds of 45 miles per hour (74 kilometers per hour), the shortfin mako is the fastest shark and is one of the fastest fishes on the planet. This species’ athleticism is not restricted to its swimming speeds. It is known for its incredible leaping ability and can be observed jumping to extreme heights (out of the water) when hunting.
Shortfin mako sharks are known to be highly migratory, with individuals making long migrations every year. Like the true tunas, the great white shark, and some other fishes, the shortfin mako shark has a specialized blood vessel structure – called a countercurrent exchanger – that allows them to maintain a body temperature that is higher than the surrounding water. This adaptation provides them with a major advantage when hunting in cold water by allowing them to move more quickly and intelligently. This species feeds on a variety of prey. They are known to primarily eat bony fishes (including relatively large tunas) and squids but also eat other sharks, small marine mammals, sea turtles, and even dead organic matter. Shortfin makos are at the top of the pelagic food web, and adults do not have any known natural predators. Juveniles are likely eaten by other sharks and perhaps by cannibalistic adults.
Shortfin mako sharks mate via internal fertilization and give live birth to a small number of relatively large young. Though they give live birth, these sharks do not connect to their young through a placenta. Instead, during the gestation period, the mother provides her young with unfertilized eggs that they actively eat for nourishment. While the shortfin mako shark is one of only very few shark species known to have bitten and killed people, these events are extremely rare and likely accidental (a case of mistaken identity).
Shortfin mako sharks have a large geographical range and are found widely in tropical to temperate latitudes of all oceans. Everywhere that they live, they are either targeted commercially or captured accidentally in fisheries targeting other species. These sharks are valued for the high quality of their fins and meat. Fishers that use longline fishing gear to target swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas regularly capture shortfin mako sharks and keep them to sell commercially. Other fisheries use longline or gillnet fishing gear to specifically target these sharks. The combination of these practices is driving down populations of shortfin makos all around the world, and scientists now believe them to be vulnerable to extinction. Without increased conservation and management efforts, this species’ populations will continue to decline, perhaps to a dangerous degree.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.