They’re not the biggest sharks in the sea, but mako sharks just might be the fastest — and the twitchiest. Scuba divers love seeing them in the wild.
The shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) is also called by its other names, blue pointer or bonito shark. It is a large mackerel shark. Usually, when people refer to mako sharks, they have grouped the shortfin mako shark together with the longfin mako shark (Isurus paucus).
Shortfin mako sharks are sometimes described as miniature great whites on amphetamines. These toothy sharks look like a shrunken-down version of the ocean’s top predators, but they act totally different. While great white sharks slice slow, graceful circles around a diver, watching with an inquisitive eye, makos are twitchy sharks, hopped up on adrenaline, that blast through a chum slick, offering a split-second glimpse before they disappear into the abyss.
Thought to be the fastest sharks in the ocean, makos have an estimated top speed burst of about 45 mph. They can achieve these speeds thanks, in part, to their warm body temperature, which stays between 7 and 10 degrees warmer than the water and gives them energy. Like great whites, makos are known to jump out of the water, sometimes up to 20 feet in the air, though scientists haven’t found the driving force behind this behavior.
Makos are pelagic sharks that live throughout the world’s oceans, but there are only a handful of places where divers have reliable encounters with these incredible creatures. So where can you scuba dive with mako sharks?
Mako populations have been rebounding in recent years off the coast of San Diego, where free divers can join charters like those offered by SD Expeditions (sdexpeditions.com) for the chance to go cage-free with these impressive predators.
The remote islands of the Azores sit along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a vast underwater mountain range that cuts through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From July to October, dive operators like CW Azores (cwazores.com) offer blue-water diving trips to swim with makos in the open ocean.
Most divers wouldn’t immediately think of Rhode Island as a shark-diving hot spot, but during the summer months, when the Gulf Stream moves close to shore, this stretch of New England coastline becomes a haven for makos and other sharks, as game fish move closer to shore. A number of fishing boats like Snappa Charters (snappacharters.com) now offer trips to see them in their element.
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With a top speed of more than 45 miles per hour, shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) are thought to be the fastest shark species. They can be easily identified by their teeth, which are visible even when their mouths are closed. These sharks can have up to 18 pups at a time, and are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable.
Shortfin makos are found in temperate and tropical seas worldwide, but San Diego, Azores and Rhode Island offer reliable encounters.
Makos can leap up to 20 feet out of the water, though scientists are unsure of the reason for this behavior. Makos are aggressive hunters that feed primarily on schooling fish like tuna, mackerel and swordfish.
They average between 6 and 9 feet in length.