How to Film the Fastest Shark in the Ocean

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Source: Photographs by nationalgeographic.com

Shortfin makos are revered by fishermen for the thrill of the chase. But too much attention on them can be dangerous.  Overfishing could be threatening shortfin makos, treasured by fishermen for their fight and their meat.

 How to Film the Fastest Shark in the Ocean

“Torpedoes with teeth.” That’s how photographer Brian Skerry describes shortfin makos. “That conical nose just pierces through the ocean.”

When Skerry set out to photograph this story on mako sharks, his ultimate goal was to produce a video of a mako shark biting prey—in slow motion. The biggest challenge was devising a plan on how exactly to capture that footage, because the equipment he’d need didn’t actually exist. With help from the imaging experts at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Skerry and his team designed a camera with a one-of-a-kind housing that would allow it to be towed behind a boat. After diving with makos off the coasts of Rhode Island and Southern California, Skerry finally got to deploy the contraption in New Zealand. He admits that there was a certain amount of luck involved: “I have no control over this. Once it’s being towed, I can’t move it left or right…It all happens lightning fast. So you have to hope that you’ve done all your preparations properly.” Ultimately, the team had one shot over a two-week period to make it happen, and the gamble paid off.

This juvenile mako “came in hot,” says Skerry, and destroyed part of his camera’s housing. Though makos rarely attack humans, the human threat to the sharks is substantial. In 2007 they were classified as vulnerable because of overfishing.
This juvenile mako “came in hot,” says Skerry, and destroyed part of his camera’s housing. Though makos rarely attack humans, the human threat to the sharks is substantial. In 2007 they were classified as vulnerable because of overfishing.
A mako prowls near a drifting clump of kelp off the San Diego coast. Such patches of floating kelp anchor miniature ecosystems, with larger fish preying on smaller fish and makos at the top of the food chain.
A mako prowls near a drifting clump of kelp off the San Diego coast. Such patches of floating kelp anchor miniature ecosystems, with larger fish preying on smaller fish and makos at the top of the food chain.
A diver keeps close tabs on a juvenile mako off the coast of San Diego, in an area where the sharks are known to give birth. Mature females bear as few as four young every three years.
A diver keeps close tabs on a juvenile mako off the coast of San Diego, in an area where the sharks are known to give birth. Mature females bear as few as four young every three years.
A shortfin mako flashes in front of an intruder, introducing itself as a force to be reckoned with in waters off the coast of New Zealand.
A shortfin mako flashes in front of an intruder, introducing itself as a force to be reckoned with in waters off the coast of New Zealand.
“Torpedoes with teeth.” That’s how photographer Brian Skerry describes shortfin makos. “That conical nose just pierces through the ocean.” Though mature females can exceed 1,300 pounds, the sharks remain fast enough to ambush speedy tuna.
“Torpedoes with teeth.” That’s how photographer Brian Skerry describes shortfin makos. “That conical nose just pierces through the ocean.” Though mature females can exceed 1,300 pounds, the sharks remain fast enough to ambush speedy tuna.
Three sharks is a crowd for makos, which tend to be solitary and highly migratory, sometimes crossing the waters of more than a dozen countries. One shark tagged near New Zealand, where mako populations are robust, traveled 11,600 miles in a year.
Three sharks is a crowd for makos, which tend to be solitary and highly migratory, sometimes crossing the waters of more than a dozen countries. One shark tagged near New Zealand, where mako populations are robust, traveled 11,600 miles in a year.
Parasitic copepods cling to the fin of a shortfin mako. They feed on different parts of the shark’s body, eating everything from mucus and blood to upper layers of skin.
Parasitic copepods cling to the fin of a shortfin mako. They feed on different parts of the shark’s body, eating everything from mucus and blood to upper layers of skin.

Almost a century later, shortfin makos still have a herculean reputation among fishermen, who love them for their fight and their meat in equal measure. But a century of fishing appears to have taken a toll. Shortfin makos—which are distinguished from their much rarer cousins, longfin makos, by, among other things, their shorter pectoral fins are eagerly targeted by recreational fishermen and frequently caught as bycatch by commercial long-liners. Their meat rivals swordfish in quality, and their fins are prized in Asia for shark fin soup, a combination that has put makos under significant pressure. But how much pressure, and to what ultimate effect, is uncertain. Scientists have no clear idea how many makos there are in the Earth’s oceans, and most of the data on catch and mortality rates come from commercial fishing operations, which famously tend to underreport catches.

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August 28, 2017 |

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