Make Time For Makos

Make time for the fastest fish in the sea.

10 June 2021

By Danel Wentzel

Image by Ryan Cake (@cakearhinus)

The mako shark is the fastest fish in the ocean. However, it is also the prime example for overfishing in the Atlantic. Our shark populations are in danger, and we need to act soon! Aside from the well-publisized issues surrounding shark finning, it is bycatch from commercial fishing activities that threaten shark populations significantly more. According to the documentary Seaspiracy, more than 300 000 whales and dolphins are killed each year as bycatch, and 30 000 sharks are killed every hour!

The time to act is now. Let's learn a bit more about these fascinating sharks and see what we can do to help Make Time For Makos!

Image by Danel Wentzel (@mermaid_danii)
Image by Jenna Coyle (@jencatco)

Introducing the fastest fish in the sea.

The name 'Mako' comes from the Maori language and literally means 'shark'. There are two species of mako sharks, the shortfin mako, Isurus oxyrhynchus (best known as being the fastest fish in the ocean) and the longfin mako, Isurus paucus. You can most likely guess that the distinct difference between the two has to do with the size of their dorsal fins, with the longfin makos having much longer fins that the shortfin makos (I know, scientists are very clever when it come to naming species).

Both species are part of the family Lamnidae, which also includes the great white shark, the salmon shark and the porbeagle shark. Sharks in this family are relatively large in size and can be found swimming around in the open ocean rather than resting on the seafloor. Though salmon sharks and porbeagles are found in cold water, makos and great whites can also be found in tropical waters. Makos are usually located relatively far from shore and are commonly seen in the pelagic. They usually eat squid and large fishes, like tunas and swordfish.

Why are Makos in trouble?

Image by Danel Wentzel (@mermaid_danii)

Remember when I said that makos commonly eat tunas and swordfish?

Sadly, these sharks are commonly caught as bycatch (unintentionally-caught species) in tuna and swordfish fisheries. With this, because both the fins and meat from mako sharks are valuable, there’s been relatively little incentive for fishermen to reduce this bycatch or release the makos they catch (Yes, this meat ends up being sold, and the shark fin trade is neither the largest nor the only threat to sharks; the general meat trade is also a significant and increasing threat to sharks overall). The species is also a popular sportfish among recreational anglers.

These issues pose enough of a threat that over the last 75 years, shortfin mako sharks have declined in population worldwide by 50-79%, which is enough to be listed as Endangered according to the standard of the IUCN Red List. This news about shortfins was announced in 2019, alongside an announcement that longfin makos are also now listed as Endangered.

NOAA Fisheries (the U.S. government agency that manages fishing) also considers the shortfin mako in the Atlantic as "overfished, with overfishing occuring". This means that the species has been reduced to the point where their populations are too low, and the rate of fishing is still too high to be sustainable.

What can we do to help.

One million species are at risk of extinction within our lifetime, more than ever before in human history. This is because of changes to our climate, how we use and develop land, and how we take resources from land and sea. In the ocean, we’re also overfishing, polluting and mining for resources in ways that damage the places plants and animals need to live.

But there is good news, here are some things we can do to make a difference.

  1. #MakeTimeForMakos

Make time for makos by supporting PADI & Project Aware. Not only will the costs of their Shark Conservation Speciality course contribute towards shark conservation, you will also leave with a better understanding of shark biology, shark behaviour and knowledge of the locals in your area.

You can also help by signing the PADI Aware Foundation's #MakeTime4Makos petition.

Images by PADI Aware Foundation

2. We are one ocean 30x30

We can reduce stresses on the ocean by creating MPAs, or Marine Protected Areas, which are like national parks on land, but in ocean or coastal areas. Protecting important areas – like coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps or the breeding areas of endangered species and fish we rely on for food – will allow the ocean to continue to sustain us and help everything living in it adapt better to climate change.

This year, the United Nations is setting goals for protecting life on the planet over the next decade. One of which aims towards protecting 30% of our land and seas by 2030. To help drive the adoption of the 30x30 target, Campaign for Nature created a petiton which you can sign on their website.

Want to dive with Makos in Cape Town?

If you're feeling lucky and want to search for some Makos around Cape Town, a quick +- 20 nautical mile boat ride off Cape Point puts you in the middle of the open ocean, the playground of the Mako!

Image by Shark Explorers

The day started with an early meet and brief at the centre. I choose to do this experience with Shark Explorers, as they are one of the top charters in Simonstown and their staff is always super friendly.

After meeting everyone, signing paperwork and getting gear we all enjoyed one last cup of coffee before hopping on the boat. The boat ride out covered some serious nautical miles, since the dive site is located offshore from Cape Point.

Our first 30 minute ride was steady and comfortable, taking in the gorgeous views of lush green mountains of the South Peninsula, cruising past the penguin colony at Boulder Beach and finally stopping at the tip of Cape Point for some mandatory selfies and a quick snack while we prepare for the journey ahead.

Since we're floating in the vast open ocean, trying to find a tiny shark is like finding a needle in a haystack. The dive operators use sardines as chum to create a fishy soup behind the boat, accompanied with a chum drum (hanging at 5m below the boat). Sharks can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to show up.

"One sardine, one shark", we heard our DM Ernest call out, after barely starting the chum line. We got luckly and had Makos straight away! Excited, all of us geared up and slowly made our way into the water as not to scare the sharks away.

We were a mixed bunch of freedivers and scuba divers, but everyone had an amazing time and some incredible, close up encounters with not only one, but four large shortfin makos!

Image by Danel Wentzel (@mermaid_danii)

Planning your shark dive.

Overall I highly recommend this experience to every ocean lover. It is a completely humbling experience being submerged in the vast big blue ocean, surrounded by creatures a lot larger and more powerful than you. Here's a few things to consider when planning your trip:

  • Pick the right charter. Since you'll be spending a good few hours on the ocean, pick a dive charter that you know will take good care of you. Shark Explorers are definitely ahead of their competitors, offering great local prices as well as excellent service (and snacks).

  • Make sure you have control over your bouancy. The last thing you want is to find yourself slowly sinking down to 100 metres. Mainting good buoyancy trough out this dive is extremely important as you'll be hovering at 5m for most of it with only a blue drum as your reference.

  • Go in season. The best time to go is December to July, as you'll have the greatest chance of finding sharks.

  • Keep weather in mind. Your dive charter will most likely update you on conditions. When going on a far boat ride it is crucial to have the ocean be as flat as possible. Once you head out past the point, there is no more protection against the elements and a choppy boat ride might be the difference between you having a good trip or spending most of it feeding the fishes at the back.

I hope this article encourages you to Make Time for Makos or to maybe even plan a Mako encounter of your very own.

If you are keen on joining my next trip, you can click on the button below to book your spot today!