Meet the shortfin mako shark! Not only can this mackerel shark hit a burst of speed of up to 46 MPH, it has also got an impressively athletic high jump that can propel it up to 30 feet in the air. Read all about it (and check out the video) after the jump!
The Shortfin Mako, Isurus oxyrinchus, is a type of mackerel shark, which means that it belongs to the order Lamniformes. Other members of this order include Shark Week heavy-hitter, the Great White Shark. Like Squaliformes, Lamniformes sharks are distinguished by their five pairs of gill slits, two dorsal fins and a lack of the nictitating membranes to cover their eyes. What also sets Lamniformes apart is the fact that the corners of their mouth extend further back on their bodies than their eyes. Mako Sharks are the fastest of all sharks, clocking in at 25 miles per hour (40 kmh), and capable of putting on bursts of speed as high as 46 miles per hour (74 kmh). And these are just its recorded speeds. It is difficult to know exactly how fast they are, but some experts believe they may be able to reach speeds of up to 62 miles per hour (100 kmh). They are also phenomenal jumpers, having been observed to propel themselves 30 feet (9 meters) into the air.
The name "Mako" comes from a Maori word used to mean shark tooth, or "a certain fish." A natural history of New Zealand notes that the Maoris valued the teeth of the Mako Shark very highly. Much of Maori culture includes legends and folk tales about sharks, including Makos, and they compared their warriors to sharks and invoked them in battle cries:
Kia mate uruora tātou, kei mate-ā-tarakihi
"Let us die like white sharks, not tarakihi fish."
Shark meat and teeth were also used and worn by the Maori people, setting the teeth into jewelry and weapons and using shark liver oil as an ingredient in cosmetics.
Mako Sharks are relatively large, with adults averaging about 10 feet (3.2 meters) in body length and weighing up to 298 pounds (135 kg). But the largest one ever captured and recorded weighed in at 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) and measured 13 feet (4 meters) from nose to tail. This specimen was examined in a fish market in Italy in 1881. Mako Sharks can be found in tropical and temperate ocean zones worldwide, and it is one of only four known endothermic (warm-blooded) sharks. It is a pelagic species, which means that it is found mostly in the open ocean at depths of around 490 feet (150 meters), though it is occasionally spotted nearer to the coast. Spotting swordfish is a good indication of whether or not there will be Mako Sharks nearby, as swordfish prefer similar water temperatures and are a favorite source of food.
Being endothermic and having a voracious appetite is likely what enables Mako Sharks to reach such impressive speeds, but they don't swim so fast just for fun. Makos were breach-hunting before Great Whites made it cool, keeping their eyes on the surface above to spot the silhouettes of prey. When they spot a likely target, they will shoot upward to hit their prey teeth-first, tearing chunks of flesh away as they go in an attempt to wound it badly enough that they can circle back around to consume the rest of it. Mako Sharks consume 3% of their weight every day, which means that an average-sized Mako will eat about 9 pounds (4 kg) of food each day.
Despite what the Discovery Channel would love for you to believe, the film Deep Blue Sea is not a documentary. But the fact is that Mako Sharks have one of the largest brain-to-body ratios of all studied sharks, and learn very quickly. Researchers have found that they are able to assess the threat potential of humans in the water with them, and have exhibited less-guarded behavior with researchers they've deemed to be non-threatening. These behaviors include tolerating gentle handling while being offered food, and refraining from rolling back their eyes (for protection) during feeding. Unlike their larger Great White cousins, Mako Sharks do not depend on electroreception to locate prey, instead relying on their acute senses of vision, hearing and smell when hunting.
Mako Sharks are popular game fish, and they are also one of the most-consumed shark by humans. Most attacks by Makos on humans are related to fishing activities, when the Mako is hooked and jumps into the boat. In general, however, left unprovoked it does not seem to consider humans to be prey.