Let Them Live

Of all the great game fish roaming our seas, few are as highly prized as the shortfin mako shark. Fearless, makos are arguably the fastest pelagic predator, capable of reaching 50 mph and skyrocketing 20-feet in the air. They are savage killers in a league of their own—lone hunters stalking the depths at the very top of the food chain.


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Mako sharks provide a level of excitement beyond typical targets. Photo: Pat Ford

Around the Florida peninsula mako sharks are never targeted or captured with any level of consistency. This streamlined stalker is more notorious for unexpectedly popping up just about anywhere and at anytime, and when they do they are often monstrous. Can you imagine the shock and awe when a Destin crew stumbled upon a monster mako devouring a freshly killed porpoise back in April 2007? Surprisingly, the savage attack occurred in only 25-feet of water just a few hundred yards from shore. Rumors claim someone on the boat came up with the bright idea of casting a bucktail jig at the feeding shark, effectively snagging it in the head. The fish, obviously un-phased by the annoying prick, made the mistake of sticking its head out of the water to investigate the commotion when it was fatally impaled with a gaff. Requiring the assistance of a nearby vessel to ultimately subdue the beast, back at the dock the dead shark weighed an astonishing 1,063-pounds!

Traveling up to 30-miles a day searching for food, mako sharks hunt by lunging vertically, typically severing their victims as they consume upwards of 5% of their bodyweight a day.

A second and certainly not the last report of a questionable kill details a group of South Florida anglers who were sharply criticized after apparently free-gaffing a 748-pound mako shark while swordfishing. One conservation website claimed the anglers were actually in violation of state and federal law. Considering they obviously had big game gear onboard, why they didn’t throw a baited hook at the fish is still somewhat of a mystery.

In either case, free-gaffing any mako shark is a good example of poor judgment. It’s a mistake that could easily result in loss of life, limb, or at the very least a severely damaged boat. In this size class, mako sharks are immensely powerful and instinctively capable of inflicting serious harm. One wrong move and it could easily be game over. Accidents do happen. I am curious if in hindsight the aformentioned crews have come to the same realization?

While recreational anglers are certainly conservation minded, we also understand that as long as a trophy fish is within legal regulations, harvesting it is an accepted practice. At one time or another we’ve all done it, and many of us will do it again. But, exactly where is the line drawn? Is it okay to kill a 100-pound juvenile mako shark, but not a 750-pound breeding female? Is “trophy fish” defined by the eye of the beholder? Without exception, great game fish of any size deserve the respect of a rod and reel. Otherwise the great catch really isn’t a great catch at all. Whatever your opinion, it makes sense to know your opponent before you take its life.

A different point of view
At the pinnacle of the food chain, from the surface to below 500-feet, mako sharks are extreme predators in every sense of the word. They are stealthy hunters highly sought after by fishermen from around the globe. Foreign commercial fishing fleets value these beasts not for their tasty flesh, but rather their valuable fins. Shark fin soup is an Asian delicacy believed to enhance health and longevity and sells for upwards of $100 per bowl.

If and when you find yourself face to face with a mature mako, consider that although both sexes grow at about the same rate females have a longer life span, as long as 25, and grow more robust, meaning all big mako sharks are breeders that have beaten the odds. Right from the very beginning mako sharks have to fight for their lives, otherwise they will be consumed by their brethren while still in the womb—nature’s freakish way of ensuring the strongest survive.

The shortfin mako that we encounter (not to be confused with the much more lethargic, rarely occurring longfin mako)is equipped with a heat exchange circulatory system that allows the shark to remain 10° warmer than its surroundings. While they do roam nearly the entire Atlantic seaboard and Gulf of Mexico they are rarely found in waters colder than 60°F. Hence, the heat exchange system enables the predator to maintain a high level of activity when hunting squid, mackerel and its very favorite prey, broadbill swordfish. If the opportunity presents itself, they will also eat sharks, porpoises, sea turtles and seabirds. Around Florida, the edges of the Loop Current and Gulf Stream provide prime habitat for these big fish as most of their favored prey are found in the same nutrient-rich waters.

Traveling up to 30-miles a day searching for food, mako sharks hunt by lunging vertically, typically severing their victims as they consume upwards of 5% of their bodyweight a day. With a metal blue finish on top and white undersides, these stealthy killing machines perfectly melt into the azure depths. Helpless victims never see the end coming.

The mako shark we know today has survived in our oceans for 100 million years. They have obviously been around much longer than we have. Yet, if we don’t unite and put an end to the reckless killing of these incredible fish, in only a few decades mankind will wipe out the entire population.