Nov 052009
 
photo provided courtesy of souldude on Flickr Creative CommonsHometropical and temperate seas
Nichelarge open ocean predator
Favorite Foodfast fish like tuna and mackerel
Lengthup to 13 feet
Weightover 1,000 pounds
StatusLower Risk of Extinction
Threatsangling, shark finning









Also called the blue pointer, mackerel shark, or snapper shark, the mako shark is one of the most feared in the ocean. Although mako sharks claim only an average of one human life per year, they nonetheless have a legendary reputation. Anglers know them for their spectacular fights when hooked and for their amazing leaps nearly 3 times their body length out of the water. For marine biologists, they are known to strike suddenly and quickly, biting out at unscrupulous handlers. And for everyone else, their ghoulish eyes and bloated mouths of horrible teeth can haunt nightmares.

Regardless of whether fears are justified, the mako shark rightly inspires wonder. It’s the fastest shark in the world, capable of speeds up to 25 miles per hour. It may not sound like much, but think of it this way. The fastest human swimmer on earth, Michael Phelps, manages a top speed of only around 5 miles per hour. In the depths of the ocean, the mako shark is the equivalent of a cheetah on the African Savannah.

The reason it’s so fast is because it has to be. Its favored prey is just as fast, if not faster. If the mako shark is the cheetah of the open ocean, then tuna and mackerel are the gazelles. The shark pursues its victims with quick bursts of lethal speed and agility, attempting to bite off the tail of retreating fish, making it slower and easier to catch. Its mouth full of wicked dagger-like teeth helps ensure that a slippery, struggling victim doesn’t get away in one piece after a bite.

Anatomically, the mako shark’s tail is a wonder of evolution. Like the tails of other lightning-quick fish, the tail fin has what are called keels on either side. The keels help not only with muscular propulsion, but also with agility. Since the mako shark’s tail fin lobes are nearly identical in size, the tail becomes the engine for the mako’s lethal bursts of speed. It’s also a highly efficient rudder, helping this fearsome predator change direction on a dime at high velocity.

Like most other sharks, female mako sharks carry their fertilized eggs inside the uterus, allowing them to hatch inside the body. Once hatched, the juvenile sharks voraciously feed on the constant supply of unfertilized eggs. When they’re ready to have a fighting chance at the dangers of the ocean, the female gives birth to a litter of predators. If they survive until adulthood, few natural predators stand a chance at challenging this amazing shark.

photo courtesy of FreeCat on Flickr Creative CommonsDespite its wide range across all temperate ocean waters on earth, the mako shark is vulnerable to extinction due to human activities. They are often caught in tuna nets as bycatch or by shark finners for soup. Commercial and recreational angling has also taken its toll on the mako and they are especially vulnerable to depleted stocks of their favorite prey. The 21st century has so far not been kind to the mako shark.

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