A cold-blooded, warm-blooded killer
Makos belong to a shark clan of particularly ill repute, properly known as the mackerel sharks of the family Lamnidae. Those in the group include but a handful of species. All of them have acquired some measure of fame – or more appropriately, of infamy – for the damage done either directly to man or in competition with us as predators for our favorite species.
The great white gets most of the attention, but others in the group include the shortfin and longfin makos, the chunkier porbeagle, and the salmon shark. The family traits reflect a highly specialized lifestyle at the very top of the ocean food chain. Makos represent the largest, fastest and most sophisticated species of pelagic shark on our planet.
Like their cousin, the great white, they keep their body temperature seven to ten degrees higher than the surrounding water using a high metabolic rate and efficient heat-exchange system. The heat and energy boost give it a physical advantage over more cold-blooded prey, like mackerels, tunas, bonitos, swordfish, other sharks, sea turtles and seals.
They are an extremely fast, fearless, aggressive and agile shark, and they are not afraid of anything. The makos of today feed on some of the world’s fastest and highly developed tunas and billfish, and are therefore considered apex predators. They are the only shark fast enough to catch a tuna.
Their torpedo-like bodies and biochemistry make these the fastest of all sharks and one of the swiftest of all fishes. Many attain speeds up to 22 miles per hour. One shortfin mako was even clocked swimming at 43 miles per hour. To put that into perspective, the fastest known humans run at around 18 mph.
Although an oceanic species, the shortfin makos power, aggressiveness, teeth and great speed make it a danger to humans. Some of the tales we hear of shortfin makos may be fable, but most are likely to be true. Shortfin makos have been blamed for a number of both nonfatal and fatal attacks on humans.
A hooked mako is more than just a fish on the line – it’s a prey to be respected. They frequently damage boats and injure fishermen after being hooked. Their famed leaps skyward, up to 20-feet, may precede a streaking run toward the horizon or a sudden headlong attack on the boat.
Some fishermen have reported that these sharks have released themselves from fishing lines and then proceeded to bite and batter those who were on board the ship. There are verified accounts describing hooked makos leaping into the offending vessel, thrashing about, creating chaos and bedlam, and even driving panic-stricken crew overboard for safety.
The mako is fished commercially and for recreation. For its speed and its jumping ability, many sport fishermen consider the shortfin mako to be a most exciting game fish.
Rule of thumb when fighting a mako: always keep the motors running. Never tag a mako for release unless it’s heading away from you, and tag them well to the back.
They were propelled to “big-game fishing” fame by author Zane Gray, who was taken by the animals’ menacing appearance and volatility during the early part of the 20th century. Author Ernest Hemingway was also impressed by the mako and depicted them as the marlin-marauding monster in his classic novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Hemingway did know his makos; for many years, he was recognized as the world-record holder for his 786-pound mako taken off Bimini in 1936.