11 Facts About Mako Sharks

iStock.com/Alessandro De Maddalena
iStock.com/Alessandro De Maddalena

Though dwarfed by the closely related great white shark, makos are impressive fish in their own right: They're speedy, powerful predators that have been featured in famous literature and have a bizarre connection to election forecasting. Read on to learn more.

1. There are two species of mako shark.

For over 150 years, marine biologists thought there was only one type of mako shark: the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrhinchus), which got its scientific name in 1810. A second mako—the longfin mako (Isurus paucus)—wasn't recognized as its own separate species until 1966.

Identifying the second species took so long both because the makos look similar—both are open ocean predators with conical snouts and bluish-grey skin with white underbellies. They’re also found in many of the same areas (they prefer warm waters, and typically hang out in tropical or subtropical portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans). One way to figure out which is which is by comparing the flanks: The longfin mako is so named because, as the name implies, it’s got much longer pectoral fins. It's also a longer shark overall.

2. The longfin mako is the second-biggest Lamnidae shark.

The Lamnidae family includes the salmon shark, the porbeagle, and the great white. In terms of size, a full-grown great white, at 19.6 feet long, is the biggest. Next comes the longfin mako, which has a maximum known length of 14 feet. Even the biggest shortfins reach just 12.8 feet long.

3. Shortfin mako shark can reach speeds of at least 31 mph.

The shortfin mako is built for speed. Its body has a streamlined, bullet-like shape that minimizes water resistance, and its pectoral and dorsal fins are rather short, so they don’t create much drag—all features that combine to allow the sharks to slice through the ocean with ease. The scales behind the gills and along its sides are flexible; they can bristle upwards at an angle of over 60 degrees, and there’s some evidence to indicate that shortfin makos use these scales to manipulate the flow of water around their bodies, reducing drag still further. These adaptations help the shortfin mako reach speeds of at least 31 mph. Unverified estimates put the top speed of adult shortfin makos at 45 mph or more, and a juvenile shark was once estimated at 60 mph (though that measurement might not be 100 percent reliable).

Just how fast the longfin mako can swim is unclear. Fewer researchers have studied this fish in detail, but due to its longer fins, the shark is probably slower.

4. Mako is a word with Māori roots.

Shark tooth necklaces and earrings were traditional attire in the culture of the Māori of New Zealand. Mako is Māori word that can mean either “shark” or “shark tooth.” Longfin makos are not known to occur in New Zealand waters, but shortfins frequent the area, with the fish being especially common around the northern end of the country.

5. Male and female shortfin makos seem to avoid each other.

Beginning in December 2004, biologist Gonzalo Mucientes and his colleagues spent four months gathering data on sharks in the southeastern Pacific. Unexpectedly, they found adult shortfin makos practicing sexual segregation. On one side of an imaginary, north-south line between Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the Pitcairn Islands, the team discovered male shortfins almost exclusively. The other side yielded many more females than males. Another study noticed this same kind of sexual divide among shortfin makos in the north Pacific. Scientists theorized that adult shortfin makos steer clear of the opposite sex for extended periods so the females who aren’t looking to reproduce can avoid harassment from males.

6. Shortfin mako growth and maturation rates are slow.

When they're born—after a gestation period that is believed to last 15 to 18 months—shortfin pups are 25 to 28 inches long. According to a 2009 study, males become full-fledged adults at between 7 and 9 years of age, but females don't hit that benchmark until they're between 18 and 21. The species has an estimated lifespan of 29 to 32 years—so when a given population of shortfin makos declines, the slow maturation rates can make it difficult for these fish to bounce back.

7. Some makos hunt swordfish.

You might say the shortfin mako enjoys fast food: The shark is a quick carnivore who chases down other high-velocity fish. Bluefish are a favorite meal: In an examination of 399 shortfin mako carcasses, bluefish remains turned up in 67 percent of their stomachs. The sharks will also go after squid, tuna, and billfish, plus the occasional dolphin or porpoise.

They're also known to attack swordfish and sailfish. Unfortunately for the sharks, those fish use their sharp beaks to impale attackers. Shortfin makos with stab or puncture wounds are a common sight; one female shark was found dead with a broken-off sailfish beak lodged in her eye. Reports of similar injuries on longfin makos tell us that this species also has an antagonistic (and probably predatory) relationship with powerful swordfish.

8. Shortfins sometimes jump into boats.

Big, fast, and tenacious, the shortfin mako is a prized game fish around the world—but grappling with one is quite the challenge for anglers. “The feel of most sharks on a fishing line is like hauling on wet laundry or trying to lift a cow,” wrote Jaws author Peter Benchley. “Fighting a mako has been compared to riding a bull or wrestling an enraged crocodile.”

It gets even tougher if the fish go airborne. Shortfin makos can reportedly leap up to 20 feet out of the water, often after getting caught on a fisherman’s line. That leads to a lot of weird-but-true headlines about makos who have propelled themselves onto boat decks. In 2013, a hooked shortfin weighing 303 pounds hopped aboard a private fishing vessel off the coast of New Jersey, causing $5000 in damages. Four years later, a 10-footer was released back into Long Island waters after it had burst from the ocean and gotten stuck under the guard rail of a chartered boat.

9. One species is prized for its meat.

The shortfin mako puts up a good fight, but that’s not the only reason why fishermen target them. “They’re unlucky enough to be one of the few shark species that is commercially viable for their meat,” wildlife ecologist Michael Byrne told Popular Science. Shortfin mako meat has a swordfish-like taste and has long been used as an ingredient in everything from stews to fish tacos. Longfin mako is sometimes eaten as well, but according to the University of Florida, longfin meat is considered to be lower in quality. However, the longfin is still actively hunted down for its namesake fins, which can fetch high prices as decorative items.

If a species can be fished, it can be overfished. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies both mako species as “vulnerable,” a designation it reserves for animals that might soon become endangered. Many of these sharks get accidentally captured when schools of tuna or swordfish are reeled in by large-scale fishing operations. Also, scientists think the shortfin’s slow maturation rates have contributed to its decline in many areas.

10. Ernest Hemingway wrote about them.

In The Old Man and the Sea—one of his final works, and the novel that won him a Pulitzer in 1953—Hemingway wrote a mako shark into a scene with the book's main character, Santiago, a Cuban fisherman who is trying to land an Atlantic blue marlin. He successfully harpoons one, but nearly loses his catch to a mako:

“The shark was not an accident. He had come up from deep down in the water as the dark cloud of blood had settled and dispersed in the mile deep sea. He had come up so fast and absolutely without caution that he broke the surface of the blue water and was in the sun … He was a very big Mako shark built to swim as fast as the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was beautiful except his jaws.”

A fight ensues between man and beast. Santiago kills the shark, but not before it rips off 40 pounds of marlin meat, thus guaranteeing that other predators will flock to the corpse.

11. Florida researchers are using makos to predict election results.

Who needs polling data when you’ve got prognosticating sharks? Researchers at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, use satellite tags to survey wild sharks. In the fall of 2016, the scientists decided to advertise their program by using tracking data from two makos to try and predict the outcome of that year’s presidential election. Both fish were named after one of the candidates and it was decided that whichever shark had swum the farthest between September 26 and November 1 would be declared the winner. Within that timeframe, the Donald Trump shark swam 652.44 miles to the Hillary Clinton shark’s 510.07. The school used the same method to try to determine the outcomes of Florida’s 2018 Senate and gubernatorial races, crowning Ron DeSantis and Bill Nelson the winners. (DeSantis won; Nelson did not.)

Hundreds of Kangaroos Roam the Green at This Australian Golf Course

burroblando/iStock via Getty Images
burroblando/iStock via Getty Images

Anglesea Golf Club has all the makings of a regular golf club: an 18-hole golf course, a mini golf course, a driving range, a clubhouse, and a bistro. But the kangaroo mobs that hop around the holes add an element of surprise to your otherwise leisurely round of one of the slowest games in sports.

Person takes photo of a kangaroo
Anglesea Golf Club

According to Thrillist, the kangaroos have been a mainstay for years, and the club started giving tours a few years ago to ensure visitors could observe them in the safest way possible. For about 25 minutes, a volunteer tour guide will drive a golf cart with up to 14 passengers around the course, sharing fun facts about kangaroos and stopping at opportune locations for people to snap a few photos of the marsupials, which are most active in late afternoon and early morning. Kangaroos are friendly creatures, but Anglesea’s website reminds visitors that “they can also be quite aggressive if they feel threatened.”

Post-graduate students and academic staff from Melbourne University’s zoology department have been researching Anglesea’s kangaroo population since 2004, and some of the animals are marked with collar and ear tags so the researchers can track movement, growth, survival, and reproduction patterns throughout their life cycle.

One of the reasons kangaroos have continued to dwell on land so highly trafficked by people is because of the quality of the land itself, National Geographic reports. The golf course staff regularly sprinkles nitrogen fertilizer all over the green, which makes the grass especially healthy.

Kangaroos graze on Anglesea Golf Course
Anglesea Golf Club

If you decide to plan a trip to Anglesea Golf Club, you can book a kangaroo tour here—adult tickets are $8.50, and children under 12 can come along for just $3.50 each.

[h/t Thrillist]

10 Surprising Facts About Shoebill Storks

MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images
MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images

Shoebill storks have been called the world’s most terrifying bird (though the cassowary might disagree). These stately wading birds stalk the marshes of South Sudan, Uganda, and elsewhere in tropical East Africa, snatching up prey with their unique, immediately recognizable bills. But there are a lot of misconceptions about shoebill storks—the first being that they're not actually storks. Here are some more surprising facts.

1. Shoebill storks could win staring contests.

Shoebills live in the vast wetlands of the Nile watershed in eastern Africa. You really can’t mistake them for any other bird: They grow 4 to 5 feet tall, have bluish-gray plumage and an 8-plus-foot wingspan, and their bill, which takes up a majority of their face, looks like a huge Dutch wooden clog. Shoebills can stand virtually motionless for hours with their bills held down against their necks. Complemented by their golden eyes, the posture affects a very convincing death stare.

2. Shoebills may be more closely related to pelicans than storks.

Shoebill stork looking at the camera
ApuuliWorld/iStock via Getty Images

Over the past couple of centuries, naturalists have debated where shoebills should appear on the Tree of Life. Some taxonomists said that the shoebill's syrinx, or vocal organ, resembled those of herons belonging to the family Pelecaniformes, which also includes ibises, pelicans, and boobies. Others countered that herons have specialized feathers than release a powdery down to help with preening, but shoebills didn’t have these feathers, so they must be storks belonging to the family Ciconiiformes. “There is, in fact, not the shadow of a doubt that it is either a heron or a stork; but the question is, which?” zoologist Frank Evers Beddard wrote in 1905. More recent studies on the shoebill's eggshell structure and DNA have supported its place among the Pelecaniformes.

3. Shoebills poop on themselves.

Shoebills practice urohydrosis, the effective—if revolting—habit of defecating on their legs to lower their body temperature. In fact, this characteristic confused taxonomists: In the past, some felt that the shoebill’s habit placed it within the family of true storks, since all true storks also use their own droppings to cool off.

4. European naturalists were introduced to shoebills in the 1840s.

Shoebill stork
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

A German diplomat and explorer named Ferdinand Werne was the first European to hear about the shoebill. On his expedition in Africa to find the source of the White Nile in 1840, Werne camped at Lake No, part of a 12,000-square-mile wetland called the Sudd in what is now South Sudan. Werne’s indigenous guides told him “that they had seen an extraordinary bird, as big as a big camel, with a bill like a pelican’s, though wanting a pouch,” according to a 1908 edition of The Avicultural Magazine.

About 10 years later, a collector named Mansfield Parkyns brought two shoebill skins to England, giving British zoologists their first look at the weird bird. At an 1851 meeting of the British Zoological Society, naturalist John Gould presented a description of the shoebill based on Parkyns’s specimens and gave it the scientific name Balaeniceps rex.

5. Shoebills are also called whale-headed storks.

Balaeniceps rex means “whale-head king,” evidently a reference to its bill shape resembling the head of a baleen whale (as well as a shoe). Other names for the shoebill include the boat-bill, bog-bird, lesser lechwe-eater (referring to the shoebill’s alleged taste for lechwe, or aquatic antelope), and abu markub, or “father of a slipper” in Arabic.

6. Shoebills love lungfish.

Yum, lungfish! These air-breathing, eel-like fish grow to more than 6 feet long and comprise the shoebill’s favorite food. Shoebills also chow down on actual eels, catfish, lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles. To catch their prey, shoebills stand still in the water and wait for an unsuspecting fish to appear. Then, the bird swiftly “collapses” on its target, spreading its wings and diving down bill-first to ambush the fish. Then, with the fish in its mouth, it decapitates it by grinding the sharp edges of its bill together.

7. Shoebills really earned their fierce reputation.

Victorian photographers learned the hard way that shoebills could be as mean as they looked. “The shoebill is capable of inflicting a very powerful bite,” 19th-century zoologist Stanley S. Flower wrote, “and is by no means a safe bird for a stranger ignorant of its ways to approach, a fact which we often have to impress on amateur photographers anxious to obtain ‘snap-shots’ of Balaeniceps at close quarters. It has been amusing to see how rapidly in some cases their enthusiasm has waned, when (as requested) confronted with the great bird screaming shrill defiance and crouching as if were about to spring, with gaping bill and half-spread wings.”

8. Shoebills have always been a rare curiosity at zoos.

Shoebill stork with its mouth open
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

In the 19th century, the Sudanese government made the shoebill a protected species, but that did not stop collectors from attempting to transport shoebills to zoos. Flower, then director of the Zoological Gardens in Giza, Egypt, brought three shoebills (along with four giraffes, nine antelopes, a lion, a leopard, three servals, two ostriches, two porcupines, an aardvark, five tortoises, a crocodile, and several other animals) on a train north from Khartoum to the gardens. The temperature rose to 118°F and the irritated shoebills barfed up their dinners. Their diet of fresh fish that Flower had ordered never materialized, so he resorted to feeding the birds canned shrimp. Miraculously, the birds arrived at the Zoological Gardens in one piece and survived in captivity for at least five years. Today, only a handful of zoos open to the public have shoebills, including the Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic, Pairi Daiza in Belgium, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the Dallas World Aquarium.

9. Shoebills are worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

Shoebills rarely breed in captivity: In the last hundred years at least, only two chicks have hatched. In today’s zoos, all shoebills were either born there or were legally collected from the wild. Unfortunately, their scarcity and mystique have also made shoebills a sought-after bird for poachers in the illegal wildlife trade. According to Audubon magazine, private collectors in Dubai and Saudi Arabia will pay $10,000 or more for a live shoebill.

10. Shoebills are at risk of extinction.

The IUCN Redlist estimates between 3300 and 5300 mature shoebills live in the world today, and that number is decreasing. The iconic birds are threatened by a number of anthropogenic forces, including loss of their marshland habitat from farming, livestock ranching, oil and gas exploration, fires, pollution, and more. International wildlife groups and local conservationists are monitoring shoebill habitats in South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia and patrolling the sites for poaching, but much more attention is needed to protect shoebills.

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