Mako Sharks: Characteristics, Feeding and Shortfin Mako Speed

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shortfin mako shark
Mako sharks are very fast, active and potentially dangerous sharks. They are mainly open sea predators and favorites among sport fishermen. They fight hard, leap high out of the water agaiin and again when hooked and their meat is tasty. They have large, unserrrated, dagger-like teeth, ideal for gripping slippery prey such as mackerel, tuna, bonito or squid. When attacking they make a quick lunge.

Mako sharks are also known as sharp-nosed mackerel sharks and blue pointers in Australia. They have streamlined bodies and are relatively slender, with pointed snouts, crescent-shaped tails, and long slender teeth. Body coloration ranges from blue gray to deep blue on their backside and white on their bottom side. The largest adults can reach 4.5 meters (14.8 feet) in length and exceed 600 kilograms (about 1,325 pounds) in weight. Mako sharks prey on fishes such as herring, mackerel, and swordfish and on small cetaceans. According to the International Game Fish Association the largest mako shark ever caught weighed 553 kilograms (1,221 pounds) and was taken in Chatham, Massachusetts in 2001.

By some estimates the number of shortfin mako sharks declined by 38 percent between 1972 and 2020. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists shortfin makos in Appendix II, which lists species not necessarily threatened with extinction now but may become so unless trade is closely controlled throughout its range. [Source: NOAA, Mónica Serrano and Sean McNaughton, National Geographic, July 15, 2021]

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida ; Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Mako Species

Longfin mako shark size

Mako sharks belong to the genus Isurus belong to the mackerel shark family, Lamnidae. There are two species: 1) the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) is found in all tropical and temperate seas, and the longfin mako (Isurus paucus), scattered worldwide in tropical seas. [Source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

The rarer longfin mako shark looks very much like the shortfin mako shark, but has larger pectoral fins, dark rather than pale coloration around the mouth and larger eyes. . Longfin mako sharks are found in the Gulf Stream and warmer offshore waters off places like New Zealand and Maine. The presence of only one lateral keel on the tail and the lack of lateral cusps on the teeth distinguish the mako from the closely related porbeagle sharks of the genus Lamna.

Makos are aggressive predators and feed near the top of the food chain on squid and pelagic fish (including swordfish, tuna, and other sharks). They have very few predators. Larger sharks and killer whales sometimes prey on younger, smaller shortfin makos.. Mako sharks (Isurus spp.) have accounted for eight non-fatal unprovoked attacks and zero fatal attacks. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Shortfin Mako Shark

Shortfin mako sharks (Scientific name: Isurus oxyrinchus) are also known as blue pointers, bonito sharks and snapper sharks. It is a large mackerel shark commonly referred to as the mako shark, as is the longfin mako shark. The shortfin mako can reach a size of 4 meters (13 feet) in length. They grow slowly and have a long lifespan, can living up to 30 years. In June 2013, a 600 kilogram (1,323.5-pound) mako shark was caught in the waters off Huntington Beach, near Los Angeles, as part of taping for the reality show "The Professionals" on the Outdoor Channel (See Makos and Human, Fishing).

shortfin mako shark

Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic: Though not as big as great whites or tiger sharks, shortfin makos are among the most versatile marine predators, built to race and range. Able to hit 35 miles an hour while chasing prey, they’re the fastest sharks over short distances. Because they can maintain the temperature of key body parts, they venture into depths and latitudes too cold for most other shark species. [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, August 2017]

Shortfin mako sharks are apex predators who use their speed to hunt bony fish. The sharks are avidly pursued by deep-sea sports fishermen. On more than one occasion they have jumped into fishing boats in attempt to shake free of fishing hooks. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the mako as endangered in part due to overfishing.

Shortfin Mako Shark— the World’s Fastest Shark

Shortfin mako sharks thought to be the fastest of all sharks, capable of swimming 56 kilometers per hour (35 miles per hour), with bursts reaching 74 kilometers per hour (46 miles per hour), according to the Smithsonian and leaping more than six meters (20 feet) out of the air. National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry described shortfin makos as “torpedoes with teeth”...Their “conical nose just pierces through the ocean.” They are fast enough to catch speedy tuna. Some sources say the fish can reach speeds of 100 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour)

Mako sharks have been observed making spectacular leaps up to 6 meters out of the water. It has been calculated that for the fish to leap to that height it must have been swimming at 35.2 kilometers per hour (22 mph).

20120518-800px-Isurus_oxyrinchus_by_mark_conlin3.jpg Fastest speed in the water
Michael Phelps — 6.9 kilometers per hour (4.3 miles an hour)
Atlantic bluefin tuna — 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles an hour)
Great white — 48 kilometers per hour (30 miles an hour)
Shortfin mako — 56 kilometers per hour (35 miles an hour)
[Source: National Geographic]

Average cruising speed
Shortfin mako — 6.7 kilometers per hour (4.2 miles an hour)
Great white — 8 kilometers per hour(5.0 miles an hour)
Blue shark — 1.6 kilometers per hour(1 miles an hour)
Yellowfin tuna — 4.5 kilometers per hour(2.8 miles an hour)

Shortfin makos are superior even to great whites when it comes to quick bursts of speed. The streamlined fish propel themselves through the water with short strokes of their thick, powerful tails. Mako sharks are endothermic ( use their metabolism to generate heat and regulate body temperature independent of the temperatures around them), This partly accounts for their great speed. The shortfin mako sharks’ heat-exchange circulatory system allows them to be 4–5.5 °C (7–10 °F) warmer than the surrounding water, enabling them to maintain a stable, very high level of activity, giving it an advantage over its cold-blooded prey.

Shortfin Mako Shark Habitat, Migrations and Where They Are Found

Shortfin mako sharks are found in temperate and tropical oceans worldwide. They have been caught by fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea and and seen off Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. In the U.S. shortfin mako sharks have been spotted off Narragansett, Rhode Island, San Diego, California, Ocean City, Maryland and in the Gulf of Mexico. In the eastern Pacific, they’re found from the Columbia River to Chile. Off the West Coast of the U.S., they’re most common off California.

In the Indo-Pacific, they are found from East Africa and the Red Sea to Hawaii. In the western Atlantic, they can be found from Argentina and the Gulf of Mexico to Browns Bank off of Nova Scotia. Swordfish are good indicators of shortfin mako populations, as the former are a source of food and prefer similar environmental conditions. [Source: Wikipedia]

range of the shartfin mako shark

Shortfin mako sharks are pelagic (open water) fish found from the surface to depths of 150 meters (490 feet). They are normally far from land, though occasionally they come closer to shore, around islands or inlets. Being one of the few known endothermic sharks it is seldom found in waters colder than 16 °C (61 °F). Juveniles are common in coastal waters, while adults are primarily found offshore.

Shortfin makos are highly migratory sharks, capable of swimming long distances across entire oceans. They travel long distances to seek prey or mates. In December 1998, a female tagged off California was captured in the central Pacific by a Japanese research vessel, meaning this fish traveled over 2,776 kilometers (1,725 miles). Another swam 2,128 kilometers (1,322 miles) in 37 days, averaging 58 km (36 mi) a day. Juvenile makos can travel 100 kilometers (62 miles) per day. Makos sometimes cross the waters of more than a dozen countries. One shark tagged near New Zealand, where mako populations are robust, traveled 18,669 kilometers (11,600 miles) in a year.

Glenn Hodges wrote in National Geographic:Makos “share territory with blue sharks. The two species are kind of like lions and hyenas, coexisting in the same areas as they pursue different feeding strategies. Shortfin makos chase down speedy prey such as bluefish and tuna. Blue sharks, on the other hand, are relatively laconic and focus on slower prey, like squid. Catching them is like, in one fisherman’s words, “reeling in a barn door,” and their meat is not nearly as good to eat as a mako’s. So you can guess which one is the lion in the analogy and which is the hyena. Everyone wants to bag the lion. [Source: Glenn Hodges, National Geographic, August 2017]

Mako Shark Characteristics

shortfin mako shark teeth

Shortfin mako sharks have big, dark eyes, pointy snouts, opened mouthes showing pointy teeth, streamlined bodies, long gill slits, well-defined keels on either side of their base and tails adapted for speed. They are bluish gray with white underside and pointed snout. Their sides are light metallic blue. Its pectoral fins are smaller than those of the rarer to longfin mako shark, Like all sharks, makos have teeth optimized for their prey. Needlelike teeth allow them to grab and hold some of the ocean’s fastest targets — tuna, swordfish, and other sharks.

Shortfin mako sharks have a less pronounced dorsal fin than other sharks, a pointy snout and nasty teeth. Makos, great whites, and salmon sharks are warm blooded. This gives them the ability to maintain body heat in a wide range of temperatures but requires a lot of energy and food to maintain. The shortin makos’ teeth are conical and pointy and protrude forward from the jaw, making them visible even when their mouth is closed.

Shortfin makos are fairly large sharks. An average adults measures around 2.5 to 3.2 meters (8.2 to 10.5 feet) in length and weighs from 135–230 kilograms (298–507 pounds). Females are typically larger than males. The largest caught with a a hook-and-line was 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds), caught off the coast of California in June 3, 2013. The longest verified length was 4.45 meters (14.6 feet) caught off the Mediterranean coast of France in September 1973. A mako caught off the coast of Italy and seen at an Italian fish market in 1881 was reported to weigh 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) at a length of 4 meters (13 feet). Another caught off Marmaris, Turkey in the late 1950s was estimated to be between 5.7 and 6.19 meters (18.7 and 20.3 feet). There are some issues with last two claims, which are bases on reports and photographs. [Source: Wikipedia]

The shortfin mako shark is shaped like a torpedo and has a vertically elongated tail. Its countershading of brilliant metallic blue on its back and white on its underside makes it difficult to see when viewed from above in the blue ocean and when viewed from below into the lit up surface and sky. The line of between blue and white on the body is distinct. The underside of the snout and the area around the mouth are white. Larger specimens tend to possess darker coloration that extends onto parts of the body that would be white in smaller individuals. The juvenile mako differs in that it has a clear blackish stain on the tip of the snout.

Key to the Shortfin Mako Shark’s Speed

20120518-Isurus_oxyrhinchus.png Sindya N. Bhanoo wrote in the New York Times, “The shortfin mako shark is one of the fastest sharks around, perhaps because of the variation in size and flexibility of the teethlike scales embedded in its skin. Flexible to 60 degrees or more, the scales help the shark change direction. [Source: Sindya N. Bhanoo, New York Times, November 29, 2010]

Amy Lang, an aerospace engineer from the University of Alabama, and colleagues found that flexible scales around the side of the shark allow it to swiftly change direction while maintaining a high speed. She recently presented her work at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Long Beach, Calif.Working with biologists and with funds from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Lang studied dead shark specimens.

Although the shark’s entire body is covered with the scales, made of the same hard enamel as its teeth, the scales on the top and underside of the body are larger and not as flexible. “The scales are about 0.2 millimeters in size on the mako’s sides,” Dr. Lang said. “And on the other species they can get much larger.” The tiny scales are flexible to an angle of 60 degrees or more, and allow the shark to control water flow separation across its body.

Dr. Lang is now trying to create models of the shark scales in her laboratory, with hopes of finding real-life applications. “Flow separation is an issue in a lot of different engineering applications,” she said. “Some other person would take it from that point, but it could be used in the rotors of the helicopter blade, parts of a submarine or a torpedo.”

Shortfin Mako Shark Feeding

Shortfin mako sharks feed mainly upon cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish) and bony fish such, tunas, bonitos, mackerels and swordfish, but may also eat other sharks, porpoises, sea turtles, and seabirds. Shortfin mako sharks consume three percent of their weight each day and take about 1.5–2.0 days to digest an average-sized meal. By comparison, the sandbar shark, slow-moving species, consumes 0.6 percent of its weight a day and takes 3 to 4 days to digest it. An analysis of the stomach contents of 399 male and female mako sharks ranging from 0.67 to 3.28 meters (two to 12 feet) 26–129 in) taken from the western Atlantic Ocean from Cape Hatteras to the Grand Banks found that bluefish made up 77.5 percent of their diet by volume. By one estimate shortfin mako sharks consumed 4.3 percent to 14.5 percent of the available bluefish between Cape Hatteras and Georges Bank. [Source: Wikipedia]

Shortfin mako sharks hunt by lunging vertically up from underneath prey and tearing off chunks of their preys' flanks and fins. Mako swim below their prey, where they can see what is above and have a high probability of reaching prey before it notices them. In Ganzirri and Isola Lipari, Sicily, shortfin mako have been found with swordfish bills stuck in their heads and gills, suggesting swordfish can seriously injure and likely kill them. Based on where and when such attack places, makos are believed to hunt swordfish during their spawning cycle, when they are most vulnerable.


Shortfin mako sharks over three meters (10 feet) have interior teeth considerably wider and flatter than smaller mako, which enables them to prey effectively upon dolphins, swordfish, and other sharks.An amateur videotape, taken in Pacific waters, shows a moribund pantropical spotted dolphin whose tail was almost completely severed being circled by a shortfin mako. Mako also tend to scavenge long-lined and netted fish.

The bite of a shortfin mako shark is exceptionally strong; the current record for the strongest bite measured for any shark belongs to a shortfin mako that was recorded at Mayor Island in New Zealand in 2020. The shark had been coaxed into biting a custom-made "bite meter" as part of an experiment to measure mako bite force. The strongest bite recorded during the experiment was roughly 3,000 lbs. of force, or roughly 13,000 newtons.

Shortfin Mako Intelligence

Shortfin makos are regarded as one of the smartest — if not the smartest shark. They have one of the largest brain-to-body ratios of any fish. New Zealand Sealife curator Craig Thorburn of Auckland and film-maker Mike Bhana to investigated the intelligence of the shortfin mako.

Using tests involving shape differentiation, electroreception tests and individual recognition, Isuru Somawardana determined that shortfin makos are fast-learners, and among other things were able to figure out determine whether or not the researchers were threatening. The sharks involved in the study showed unique and novel behaviors, such as refusing to roll back their eyes during feeding and allowing themselves to be briefly restrained and touched while being offered bait.

Unlike the great white sharks, shortfin makos do not rely on electroreception when hunting based on tests using a wired fiberglass fish designed to emit weak electrical signals resembling real fish. Instead, they rely on smell, hearing, and, first and foremost, vision. The results of this research were featured in the documentary “Mako: Swift, Smart & Deadly” shown on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in 1999.

Mako Shark Reproduction

Shortfin makos do not reproduce until late in life, when males are about 8 years old and females are around 20 years old. They have a 3-year reproductive cycle, including a 15- to 18-month gestation period. Eggs are fertilized internally, and develop inside the mother. Pups are born alive, and are fairly large when born. [Source: NOAA]

Mako sharks are ovoviviparous (eggs are hatched within the body of the parent) and iteroparous (offspring are produced in groups such as litters). They engage in internal reproduction in which sperm from the male fertilizes the egg within the female. The number of offspring ranges from four to 18. Shortfin mako sharks are polygynandrous (promiscuous), with both males and females having multiple partners. Polyandry — where the females mate with more than one male — has has been documented.

Shortfin mako shark females nourish their young insider their bodies with yolk-sacs and give birth to live young that are about 70 centimeters (28 inches) in size. Developing embryos feed on unfertilized eggs within the uterus. Makos do not engage in sibling cannibalism unlike sand tiger sharks. Young are born in the late winter and early spring at a length of about Females may rest for 18 months after birth before mating again. [Source: Wikipedia]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, NOAA

Text Sources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikipedia, National Geographic, Live Science, BBC, Smithsonian, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last Updated April 2023

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