Nature’s purpose-built torpedo is the mako shark. The mako is the fastest of all sharks, capable of powering through the water at speeds of up to 27 to 38 knots – that’s 50 to 70 kilometres per hour! Makos are divided into two species: the short-finned (Isurus oxyrhincus) and the long-finned (Isurus paucus) mako, which look very similar to each other bar the size of their pectoral fin (as their names suggest). Both species are global in their distribution, but in our Victorian waters, you’re more likely to come across the short-finned species.
Makos are clearly identified by their slender fusiform body, which is coloured by a brilliant, indigo blue dorsal side and a white underside. They also possess large black eyes and rows of long needle-like teeth that often protrude from the mouth. Like the other mackerel sharks, sexual maturity is relatively late in life, with males and females reaching maturity at approximately 8 and 18 years respectively. The average number of pups born to a female is 12 following a gestation period of up to 18 months in a three-year reproductive cycle.
Although approximately half the size (about 2.8 metres) of their bigger cousin, the great white (Carcharodon carcharias), makos are formidable hunters, chasing down medium to large-sized fish, such as tuna and small cetaceans (whales and dolphins). The mako has a unique arrangement of red muscle (which is fatigue-resistant) in the centre of its body, which is linked to the tail by long tendons. These allow for rapid, powerful and repeated contractions to occur with maximal transfer of energy to the tail. Funnily enough, tuna also have a similar muscle arrangement, illustrating the beauty of evolution - although two very different kinds of fish, they’ve both evolved a similar way to solve the same problem: to eat and to avoid being eaten! Using its speed to chase down prey, the mako is even capable of launching itself six metres into the air if it means securing dinner! If the chase is successful, the mako ensures its prey cannot escape using its perfectly-designed teeth like rows of spears to puncture and hold.
Makos are considered aggressive sharks, readily chasing and attacking baited lines. Despite this, there have only been three fatal attacks globally since 1980. Many non-fatal incidences with makos have occurred when harassing the animal whilst on the fishing line or when it has been landed in the boat. The tenacity of the mako and its prized flesh has made it a very popular target for sport fishers, which has unfortunately placed increased pressures on their already declining populations. The International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list has makos listed as ‘vulnerable’.