Mako Sharks with a speed burst of up to 46 miles per hour (74 km/h) are believed to be the fastest shark species. The scientific community commonly call these sharks Isurus. There are two extant species of mako sharks identified today. The first identified is the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), which has other common names as the blue pointer or bonito shark.
Due to the striking similarities between the mako sharks, it took quite long to identify the second species which is the longfin mako shark (Isurus paucus). These sharks belong to the family Lamnidae and the genus Isurus.
As mackerel sharks, they have a similar appearance as their cousins the Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and the prehistoric Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon).
Mako sharks are interesting species with unique features and behavioral patterns. Hence, here are the things you need to know about these amazing species.
Naming of Mako Sharks
“Mako” is a name from the Maori language. It means the shark or a shark tooth. In the English language, “Mako” represents both singular and plural following the Maori language. The origin of the word could have been from variation in dialect because of its similarity to common word for sharks in certain Polynesian languages. For instance, in the Kāi Tahu Māori dialect it is makō, and in other Māori dialects mangō. Similarly, in Tahitian ma’o, Hawaiian mano, and Samoan mago.
Constantine Rafinesque described the shortfin mako shark scientifically in 1809 as Isurus oxyrinchus. Here, Isurus means “the same tail”, while oxyrinchus means “pointy snout”.
There was no original description of the longfin mako until 1966. Darío Guitart-Manday, a Cuban marine scientist published a description based on three specimens from the Caribbean sea. Hence, the specific name Isurus paucus. Earlier, in 1964, there was a synonym describing this species by Glückman naming it Lamiostoma belyaevi. But, a set of fossil teeth designated by Glückman as the type specimen could not be confirmed as that of the longfin mako. This made the name paucus preferred to belyaevi despite later publication.
paucus is a Latin word meaning “few”. This refers to the scarcity of this species compared to the shortfin mako.
The shortfin mako is a pelagic species occurring within depths of up to 450 feet (150 m) from the surface. Though they occasionally swim toward the shore, these sharks prefer staying far from land. This shark species generally inhabits offshore temperate and tropical oceans worldwide. The shortfin mako is one of the very few endothermic shark species. They rarely stay in waters colder than 61°F (16°C).
As for the longfin mako relation, it prefers warmer offshore waters or Gulf stream. This shark has widely scattered records suggesting a worldwide distribution in tropical and warm-temperate oceans. Inhabiting the open ocean, the longfin mako will typically stay in the upper mesopelagic zone during the day. However, at night this shark will ascend up to the epipelagic zone. They occur mostly in depths between 160 to 720 feet (50 to 220 m).
The shortfin mako in the western Atlantic Ocean occurs from Argentina and the Gulf of Mexico toward Brown’s bank off Nova Scotia. This species also occurs in Canadian waters, however, they are neither abundant nor scarce. The presence or absence of swordfish can suggest the population of shortfin mako. This is because swordfish prefer similar environmental conditions as the shortfin mako. Even more, they serve as a source of food for the shortfin mako.
Shortfin mako sharks are migratory and can travel long distances in search of prey or mates. Thus, a Japanese research vessel captured a female previously tagged off California. This suggests that the shark traveled a distance of over 1,725 miles (2,776 km). There are other recorded cases of migration in this species.
For longfin mako sharks, this species occurs in the Atlantic Ocean in the west from the Gulf Stream off the East Coast of the United States, Cuba, and southern Brazil. In the east, the distribution starts from the Iberian Peninsula to Ghana. This might possibly include Cape Verde and the Mediterranean Sea.
Similarly, in the Indian Ocean, there are reports of longfin mako sharks from the Mozambique Channel. In the Pacific Ocean, this species occurs off Taiwan and Japan, northeastern Australia. This includes also some islands in the central Pacific southern California and northeast of Micronesia.
Determining the distribution range of longfin mako sharks is quite difficult because of the confusion with the shortfin mako.
How to Identify Mako Sharks
The Shortfin Mako Shark
Isurus oxyrinchus are fairly large species with accelerated growth rate compared to other lamnids. This shark is cylindrical in shape with an elongated vertical tail. Shortfin mako sharks are capable of countershading. They have on their backside a bright metallic blue color, while their underside is white. There is a distinct demarcation between the blue and white coloration on their body.
The underside region of the snout and the mouth have white coloration. Larger individuals tend to possess darker coloration extending to areas that would normally be white in smaller individuals. To identify juveniles, there is a clear blackish stain on the tip of their mouth.
Growth size of the Shortfin Mako
On average, an adult shortfin mako measures around 10 feet (3.2 m) in length while weighing between 132 to 298lb (60 to 135 kg). This species shows sexual dimorphism with females growing typically larger than males. There are few individuals growing larger than the average length. Some mature females have been recorded to grow above 12 feet (3.8 m) in length with a weight of 1,260lb (570 kg).
From the record, the largest verified weighs 1,300 lb (600 kg) an individual caught off the coast of California (June 2013. While the longest verified length measures 14.6 feet (4.45 m) a specimen caught off the Mediterranean coast of France (September 1973). There are reports of larger individuals having exceeding length and size. However, these reports are estimates without any formidable verification.
Determining the age of most sharks involves the counting of growth bands by sectioning vertebrae. This applies to the shortfin mako. Before 2006, there is a poorly supported belief that shortfin mako sharks deposited 2 growth bands each in their vertebrae. This led to the underestimation of their lifespan and other necessary parameters.
But then, a landmark study overturned this belief by proving that shortfin mako sharks deposited only one growth band per year in their vertebrae. Also, it provided validated ages for multiple specimens. The lifespan of males is 29 years, while that of females is 32 years.
The Longfin Mako Shark
There is a striking resemblance between the longfin mako shark and the shortfin mako shark. However, the pectoral fins of the longfin mako are larger compared to that of the shortfin mako. They have larger eyes and dark rather than pale coloration around the mouth.
The longfin mako is the larger species among the two mako sharks. In fact, it is the second largest after the great white shark in the family Lamnidae. This shark has a slim body shape tapering at both ends. It has a long pointed snout and also large eyes lacking nictitating membranes. The gill slits are long extending on top of the head.
On the upper jaw, there are 12 – 13 tooth rows occurring on either side. While the lower jaw contains 11 -13 tooth rows on either side. The teeth of the longfin mako are large with the shape of a knife. They do not have serrations or secondary cusps. On the lower jaw, the outermost teeth prominently project from the mouth.
The pectoral fin of the longfin mako is as long or longer than the head. It has broad tips and an almost straight front margin. This shark has a large first dorsal fin with a rounded tip positioned just behind the pectoral fin. Meanwhile, the second dorsal fin and anal fin are tiny. There is the caudal peduncle that expanded toward the sides (laterally) into strong keels. The caudal fin has the shape of a crescent with a small notch at the upper lobe near the tip.
The denticles covering the body of this shark are rather long than wide, and elliptical in shape. 3 to 7 horizontal ridges are leading to a toothed posterior margin.
This shark has a dark blue to grayish color on the backside, while the underside is white. The unpaired fins have dark coloration except for the rear margin of the anal fin which is white. Also, the upper side of the pectoral and pelvic fins are dark, however, they are white below with a sharp gray rear margin.
Large individuals of the longfin mako have dusky mottling in regions beneath the snout, the jaws surrounding, and the pectoral fin origin.
Typical Behavior of Mako Sharks
The shortfin mako is popular for its speed, thus, recognized as the fastest shark species. This shark has a speed record of 25 miles per hour (40 km/hr), with bursts reaching 46 miles per hour (74 km/hr). With this speed, the shortfin mako can jump up to 30 feet (9 m) height out of the water. The speed and extraordinary jumping ability made the shortfin mako highly sought-after as game fish.
There are reports of shortfin mako jumping into boats even after being hooked.
The large size of the longfin mako, its slimmer build, and the long, broad pectoral fins suggests that it is less active and energetic than the shortfin mako. As a result, it is not of value like its counterpart.
Hunting and Feeding
Hunting Behavior of the Shortfin Mako
While hunting, the shortfin mako swims below its prey. The reason is so it can see what is above and launch an attack on its prey before it could notice. This shark will usually lunge vertically upwards to tear chunks off their preys’ fins and flanks.
Larger shortfin mako sharks over 9.8 feet (3 m), have interior teeth that are quite flatter and wider than in smaller individuals. This gives them the edge to hunt larger prey such as swordfish, dolphins, and other sharks.
An adaptation that gives the shortfin mako advantage over its prey is its endothermic constitution. Thus, just like other lamnid sharks, this shark species has a heat exchange circulation system enabling it to maintain temperature higher than the surrounding water with about 7 to 10°F (4 to 7°C). With this system, shortfin mako sharks can maintain a very high activity level which is an advantage over their cold-blooded prey.
Shortfin Mako Preys
Mainly, the shortfin mako will feed on cephalopods and bony fishes which include mackerels, swordfish, bonitos, and tunas. They also feed on other sharks, sea turtles, sea birds, and porpoises. There is shortfin mako found with amputated swordfish bills pierced into their gills and head. This, of course, suggests that swordfish severely injure these sharks and probably kill them.
The location (Ganzirri and Isola Lipari, Sicily) in addition to the late spring and early summer period which corresponds to the spawning cycle of the swordfish suggests that shortfin mako sharks attack them while they are most vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, this is typical of most predators.
These sharks also scavenge netted and longlined fish. It takes the shortfin mako a day and a half or two days to digest an average-sized food as they consume 3% of their body weight daily.
Hunting/Feeding Behavior of the Longfin Mako
The longfin mako is not as active as the shortfin mako. However, it possesses blood vessel countercurrent exchange systems known as rete mirabilis. This system in other mackerel sharks helps them to conserve metabolic heat, as such, they can maintain a higher body temperature than their surrounding environment. It is not clear yet if the longfin mako shark is capable of the same.
This shark has large eyes and chemical lights in the form of Cyalume sticks attract them, therefore implying that the longfin mako is a visual hunter. They prey mainly on squids and small, schooling bony fishes. There is a record of a female longfin mako captured in the north-eastern Indian Ocean with a broken swordfish bill pierced into her abdomen. It is not certain if this was a case of the longfin mako preying on the swordfish as the shortfin mako does, or it had an aggressive encounter with the fish which did not end well.
Mating and Reproduction
Shortfin mako sharks are ovoviviparous that utilizes the yolk sac giving birth to the young alive. The gestation period lasts for 15 to 18 months. During this period, developing embryos feed on unfertilized eggs, this process is known as oophagy.
Female shortfin mako sharks give birth around late winter and early spring. A litter contains 4 to 18 pups measuring about 28 inches (70 cm) in length. It takes shortfin mako sharks an average of three years to reproduce. And, the females after giving birth may take about 18 months before mating again.
The longfin mako shark has a similar reproductive cycle as the shortfin mako. They are ovoviviparous and the developing embryos feed through oophagy. However, this species typically only gives birth to two pups at a time with one occupying each uterus. Though, this may not always be the case as there is a record of an 11ft long female captured in the Mona Passage near Puerto Rico in 1983 (January) with 8 well-developed embryos.
At birth, the young of Longfin mako sharks measures 38 – 47 inches (97 – 120 cm) in length. This is relatively larger than the pups of shortfin mako. More so, their heads and pectoral fins are proportionally longer than the adults when compared to their body size. Records of longfin mako sharks captured off Florida suggests that females swim into shallow coastal waters during winter to give birth.
Female longfin mako sharks reach sexual maturity at a length of 8.2 feet (2.5 m). While males do so at 6.6 feet (2 m)
There is no evidence of sibling cannibalism seen in any of the mako shark species.
Shortfin Mako Shark Brain Size and Intelligence
The shortfin mako shark of all studied shark species has one of the largest brains compared to the body size. This led to the investigation of the intelligence of this shark. As expected, the shortfin mako proved to be a fast learner able to figure out whether the researchers approaching it were a threat or not.
These researchers tested the shark on shape differentiation, individual recognition, and electroreception tests. With this, they could figure out several facts which include that shortfin mako sharks do not respond to electrical signals when hunting. As such, they rely more on smell, hearing, and vision most of all than electroreceptors.
The result of this research featured in a 1999 Shark Week documentary “Mako: Swift, Smart, and Deadly”.
Mako Sharks Interaction with Humans
Attacks on Humans
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) recorded only nine shortfin mako attacks on humans as of 2017. One of these attacks was fatal. Also recorded were 20 attacks on boats. The shortfin mako always has accusing fingers pointing at it for attacks on humans mostly because of its speed, size, and strength. Of course, this shark is capable of causing injuries and killing people.
Mako sharks would not generally attack humans, and most of all does not seem to consider humans as prey. In fact, most modern attacks are thought to be a result of humans provoking the shortfin mako by harassing or trapping it on a fish line. According to divers who encountered shortfin mako, they tend to swim with their mouth open in a figure-eight pattern while approaching, before an attack.
The longfin mako shark (Isurus paucus) has no record yet of any attack on a human. Nevertheless, anyone approaching them must exercise caution because of the large size and the teeth are attributes of potentially dangerous species.
Humans predominantly fish shortfin mako sharks around the world for sporting activities. This shark is very fast in the water and can perform fast runs, acrobatic flips, and engage in heavy fights that entertain anglers. These sharks are captured through the use of traditional hook using chum and bait casters.
However, the method of fly fishing became more popular especially in San Diego which is the location of 3 known mako rookeries worldwide.
For several years, there was mass commercial boat hunting of shortfin mako for restaurants. But, the intervention of local fisheries and national organizations such as Orvis helped to curb the act.
The shortfin mako shark among all recorded attempts to keep pelagic sharks in captivity is the least successful. On arrival, this shark appeared strong, however, they all had a problem negotiating the aquarium walls, failed to eat, weakened quickly, and subsequently died. The current captivity record by an Isurus oxyrinchus species is an individual kept at the New Jersey Aquarium in 2001 surviving only for five days.
Shortfin mako sharks make more profitable catch than longfin mako. Although, the meat of the longfin mako is sold as fresh, frozen, dried and salted food. But, most people still consider it to be of poor quality due to its excessive tender texture. The fins of this shark are valuable enough that captured individuals are often finned at the ocean for use in shark fin soup. Yet, it is still seen as lower quality.
Other important parts of the longfin shark include carcasses processed into fish meal and animal feed, the skin, jaws, and cartilages. Longfin mako sharks are not particularly sought for, but mostly taken as bycatch on longlines, gillnets, and hook-and-lines.
On the other hand, shortfin mako sharks are directly targeted by sport and commercial fisheries. They consider them superior to its sister species.
Due to the continuing decrease in the population trend of both Shortfin mako and Longfin mako species, the IUCN listed them in a current assessment as “Endangered (EN)”.
10 Amazing Mako Sharks Facts in a Glance
1. Fastest Swimmers of All Sharks
The most active of mako sharks (shortfin mako) has a speed burst recorded at 46 miles per hour (74 km/h). This speed is the fastest yet recorded among sharks.
2. Jump up to 10 feet high Out of Water
Shortfin mako sharks can jump as high as 30 feet (9 m) out of water. Of course, the speed of this species facilitates this extraordinary jumping skills.
3. Least to Survive Captivity
Of all pelagic sharks ever attempted to be kept in captivity, mako sharks performed the poorest. They died too quickly with the highest surviving for only 5 days.
4. Very Intelligent Shark Species
Of all shark species, mako sharks have the largest brain to body ratio. As a result, they passed several tests for intelligence by researchers. They can learn very fast, decipher threatening approach, and do not rely on sensors for hunting.
5. Ability to Maintain Higher Body Temperature than the Surrounding
The endothermic constitution of mako sharks helps them maintain warmer body temperature than the surrounding water. This is common among lamnid sharks. And, it makes them more active than their cold-blooded prey, hence boosting hunting capacity.
6. The Word Mako has a Maori Origin
In Maori, New Zealand, the word mako can mean just “shark” or “shark tooth”. Shortfin mako frequents New Zealand waters occurring mostly at the northern end. There is no record yet of longfin mako in waters around this area.
7. Mako Includes Two Species of Sharks
Under the name, Mako sharks are two species which include the more popular shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) and the longfin mako (Isurus paucus). These sharks appear very much alike but still have their differences.
8. Shortfin Mako Sharks are Especially Targeted for Sport
The shortfin mako is fast, big, and tenacious. As a result, anglers collect them as game fish worldwide. These sharks can jump out of water performing twists and engage in heavy fights entertaining spectators.
9. The Longfin Mako is the Second-largest Shark in the Family Lamnidae
After the great white shark which measures 19.6 feet, comes the longfin mako with a length of 14 feet. These are the largest in the family Lamnidae.
10. The Population of Mako Sharks is Greatly Declining
The growth and maturity rate of shortfin mako sharks are slow. It takes an average of three years for them to reproduce, thus, the mating cycle takes 18 months to occur, while gestation lasts for another 15 to 18 months. Longfin mako sharks are not naturally common and could go through the same slow cycle. Currently, both species are listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN.
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- “Isurus paucus, Longfin mako”, FishBase.
- “Biology of the Longfin Mako (Isurus paucus)“, ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.
- “Longfin mako sharks, Isurus paucus, MarineBio.
- “Isurus paucus, Longfin Mako”, Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department.
- “Isurus paucus (Longfin Mako)”, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.