Mako sharks, the fastest fish in the sea, have fascinated divers and shark fans for many years. But having recently been listed as endangered, will we still be able to dive with them in years to come?
And more importantly, what will happen if we lost these vital apex predators for good?
Are mako sharks endangered?
The Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently announced that both the Shortfin and Longfin Mako shark are now classified as Endangered.
Previously listed as Vulnerable, they have been downgraded to Endangered and are now officially at risk of going extinct.
Professor Nicholas Dulvy, co-chair of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group commented that this latest news is alarming yet not surprising, as sharks such as these are slow growing and unprotected from overfishing.
This fastest fish in the sea, capable of swimming at speeds exceeding 40mph, has no international fishing restrictions despite mako populations plummeting in recent years.
In some regions, their populations have declined by up to 60 per cent.
Why does it matter if Mako sharks go extinct?
As an apex predator, a predator sitting at the top of oceanic food webs, mako sharks play a vital role in sustaining the health and functioning of ocean ecosystems.
They are one of the most efficient hunters of all shark species and eat mostly bony fish such as tuna, mackerel, swordfish, plus cephalopods, other sharks, porpoises, sea turtles and sea birds.
They control the populations of those species they feed on – ensuring ocean food webs remain in balance and no single population gets out of control.
Apex predators also feed on vulnerable prey, such as old, injured and sick animals; which leaves more food for the healthy prey animals to survive on.
What happens when you remove apex predators, such as mako sharks, from the ocean?
Prey populations explode in numbers when you remove apex predators such as mako sharks.
As those prey populations increase unchecked, the prey animals they feed upon then decrease and eventually collapse.
What happens then? The prey populations that boomed in the first place have nothing to feed on and also eventually collapse.
In short, oceanic food webs collapse and ocean biodiversity are lost.
Apex predators prevent that cycle from occurring by keeping prey numbers balanced and under control at all times.
They improve the health of ocean ecosystems and ensure marine biodiversity is sustained for all.
Is it too late to save mako sharks?
There is still hope for mako sharks if we act now to save them.
Most importantly, governments need to implement strict limits on mako fishing and ensure those limits are enforced.
The latest news on mako shark conservation is cause for hope:
- The EU is facing pressure to announce catch quotas for mako sharks in its waters.
- Numerous sharks and rays, including makos, are being proposed for listing at the next meeting of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in late May 2019.
You can do your part to protect mako sharks and other sharks from extinction by ensuring you don’t purchase products made from sharks.
You can also use sustainable seafood guides online to ensure the fish you eat doesn’t have bycatch (which commonly includes sharks and marine mammals).
Where can you dive with mako sharks?
One of the best ways to protect sharks from extinction is to ensure they are worth more alive than they are dead for their meat and fins.
Sustainable shark tourism goes a long way to protect sharks by ensuring they are valuable alive and creating an income from them; which is often used to protect marine reserves, educate people about shark conservation and conduct shark research.
You can swim and dive with mako sharks are these top dive destinations:
Simons Town, South Africa
South Africa is one of the best places to swim with mako sharks.
A variety of dive operators depart from Simons Town in South Africa (near Cape Town) and offer day trips into the big blue, where you can swim with mako and blue sharks to your heart’s content.
Top dive operators – Apex Shark Expeditions, Shark Explorers
Hawaii is a great shark diving destination in its own right and mako sharks are sometimes seen there.
There are a number of top Hawaii dive sites where you can encounter sharks, plus you can also enjoy dedicated shark diving trips.
Top dive operator – One Ocean Diving
San Diego, USA
Mako populations have been increasing in recent years off San Diego and you can go free diving with makos there.
Top dive operator – SD Expeditions
Rhode Island, USA
Rhode Island is quite well-known as a shark diving hotspot during the summer months and is well-worth visiting.
The Gulf Stream attracts many sharks to the area, including makos and blues, and you can go cage diving with them there.
Top dive operator – Snappa Charters
The stunning Azores islands are truly remote, sitting on the mid-Atlantic ridge, and offer abundant marine life – including sharks.
CW Azores offers diving trips to swim with mako sharks at this special destination.
This article was written by Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist, and dive travel writer. Follow her adventures at www.kathryncurzon.com.