Are Mako Sharks Dangerous? Do They Attack Humans?

Mako sharks possess speed and strength that make them capable of inflicting severe injuries. Their powerful jaws, acrobatic breaches, and sheer size are intimidating. However, statistics show mako shark attacks on humans are incredibly rare compared to other risks we accept daily.

Understanding Mako Sharks

To start our exploration of mako sharks, let’s first understand some key facts about what they are and where they live. This background will help us better analyze their behaviors and potential dangers.

Mako sharks belong to the mackerel shark family Lamnidae. They are known for their distinctive long, pointed snouts and vibrant blue coloring on their backs. There are two main species:

  • Shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) – The more common and widespread species.
  • Longfin mako (Isurus paucus) – A larger but less common species found in deeper, more offshore waters. 

Shortfin mako sharks are a highly migratory pelagic species capable of diving to depths over 500 meters (1,600 feet) in search of prey. However, shortfin makos more commonly remain near the ocean’s surface. They tend to avoid waters colder than 16°C (60°F), sticking to their preferred temperature range of 17-22°C (63-72°F). Their habitat flexibility allows shortfin makos to range across vast distances in pursuit of food.

Mako sharks inhabit offshore temperate and tropical waters around the world. In the Atlantic Ocean, they range from New England down to Brazil. Makos in the Pacific are found from Southern California to Chile.

An average shortfin mako reaches between 8-12 feet long and around 300 pounds. The largest can grow over 15 feet long and weigh over 1,200 pounds! Their lean, torpedo-shaped bodies allow them to slice through the water at blazing speeds of up to 60 mph.

Makos have excellent senses including olfaction, vision, and electroreception to detect prey. Their jaws contain long, pointed teeth arranged in rows. This fearsome dentition helps makos rip into prey like tuna, swordfish, and even other sharks.

Behavior and Characteristics

Mako sharks earn their reputation as fierce hunters and apex predators of the oceans. Their speed, agility, and razor-sharp teeth make them perfectly adapted for taking down fast-moving prey.

These sharks will migrate long distances in search of food. They employ a wide range of hunting strategies, from stealthy stalking to high-speed pursuit. Makos can accelerate in a split second to ambush unwary prey.

A mako’s diet consists mainly of fish like mackerel, tuna, and swordfish. They will also eat smaller sharks, squid, turtles, and even seabirds. Their powerful jaws and teeth can rip off large chunks of flesh in a single bite.

While hunting, makos may exhibit spectacular breaching behavior. This is when they propel their bodies fully out of the water in pursuit of prey. Their streamlined shape allows them to rocket into the air and then dive back below the surface.

Despite their fierce nature as hunters, mako sharks do not actively seek out humans. They tend to exhibit curiosity and investigatory behavior toward unusual stimuli like divers. However, reports of aggressive makos are relatively rare compared to other shark species.

However, makos will become aggressive in certain situations, like when caught on a fishing line. Their thrashing against the side of a boat can be extremely dangerous. Overall, though, makos do not view people as normal prey items.

Do Mako Sharks Attack Humans?

Mako sharks are apex predators capable of inflicting serious injury with their teeth. However, they do not typically target humans and attacks are very rare. The statistics on mako shark interactions with humans reveal that unprovoked attacks are extremely rare.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there have been only 10 confirmed unprovoked mako shark attacks on humans ever recorded worldwide. Of these, only 1 was fatal, by shortfin makos.

In cases where makos have bitten people, it was likely a mistaken identification or the shark feeling threatened. When they bite, they tend to release rather than continue an assault. This shows humans are not viewed as prey.

Swimmers and divers should exercise reasonable caution in mako shark habitats, but the presence of makos alone is no cause for alarm. No shark actively seeks out humans, and mako sharks in particular pose little inherent danger.

People are far more likely to be injured by makos during fishing activities. Spearfishing in particular can attract makos, leading them to associate humans with feeding opportunities.

Factors Limiting Danger to Humans

Several factors limit the danger makos pose to people:

  • Habitat – Makos prefer deep offshore waters far from humans. They are uncommon near beaches and shorelines where people swim.
  • Prey preference – Makos feed on small fast-moving fish, not slow-moving humans.
  • Lack of interest – Makos show little inclination to interact with or bite humans even when encountered underwater.
  • Timidity – Despite their speed and size, makos are rather timid sharks that flee from divers and unusual objects.

Dangers to Anglers

While rare, mako sharks do pose a moderate risk to fishermen angling offshore. Their speed, acrobatic leaps, and sharp teeth make them a challenge to land.

Jumping into the Boat

After being hooked, makos frequently jump high out of the water. At over 10 feet long and 500 pounds, an airborne mako poses a collision hazard.

There are several recorded instances of makos landing in boats after being hooked. This can cause injuries to crew if the shark lands on anyone.

Biting Hands or Gear

Makos can bite hands that grab the leader line or shake hooks while landing the fish. Severe lacerations can occur.

They also bite at boat motors or structures in response to metal electrical impulses or while attacking the boat. Makos have destructive bites capable of damaging gear, props, and watercraft.

Always treat makos with caution when reeling them in. Avoid grabbing the leader line. Use a tail rope and release the shark while it’s still partly in the water to minimize bite risk.

Mako Shark Bite Risks and Prevention

Though mako shark attacks are very infrequent, there are steps you can take to minimize any potential risk. The goal is to minimize attracting their curiosity and accidental bites:

  • Avoid swimming near fishing boats or areas with speared fish blood and scraps in the water. Both can draw in makos looking for food. Steer clear of dusk/nighttime hours when sharks are most active.
  • Follow any beach advisory warnings about recent shark sightings and get out of the water if one is spotted. Don’t swim alone and avoid murky water with low visibility.
  • Don’t wear high-contrast clothing or shiny jewelry that could mimic the sheen of fish scales. Refrain from excessive splashing and erratic movements.
  • If a mako approaches you, stay calm and do not provoke it. Carefully move away to signal you are not prey. Always treat makos with respect but not irrational fear.
  • For divers, avoid holding speared fish or wearing gear that creates electrical pulses, which may attract makos. Stay compact with other divers and leave the water if one approaches.
  • Fish with caution and treat makos gently when reeling them in. Use a tail rope and release them while partly submerged.
  • If you hook a mako, be prepared for acrobatic leaps and get out of the landing zone.
  • Watch for signs of agitation like erratic swimming or posturing. End the encounter if the mako starts behaving aggressively.
  • If bitten, seek immediate medical care due to risk of infection from bacteria in a shark’s mouth.

By taking reasonable precautions without overreacting, the already minimal risks of a mako shark encounter can be reduced even further.

Are Mako Sharks More Dangerous than Great White Sharks?

Despite their speed and sharp teeth, mako sharks are far less dangerous to humans than great white sharks. Statistics reveal great white sharks are more likely to bite humans than mako sharks.

Great whites are responsible for 326 unprovoked attacks on humans with over 52 fatal compared to around 10 for makos. Fatal great white bites occur more often as well, though both rates are extremely low overall.

The great white’s size, jaw strength, and indiscriminate biting tendencies make it more hazardous to humans. Makos rely on speed and avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Great whites much more frequently interact with humans, exhibiting less timidity than makos.

However, individual mako disposition and situation play a role, too. A provoked, aggressive mako defending itself can certainly inflict damage with its speed and bite.

But in general, great white sharks are considered more dangerous as they inhabit coastal areas popular with swimmers and surfers. Makos live further offshore in the open ocean, away from humans.

Both sharks deserve a healthy degree of fear and respect. But in an unprovoked encounter, statistics point to greater risks with a great white shark compared to a mako.

Can Mako Sharks Be Friendly?

While the notion of a “friendly” mako shark may seem far-fetched, they have exhibited tolerant and even sociable behavior around divers. Some individual makos appear comfortable interacting with people.

There are documented instances of mako sharks allowing divers to touch their snouts and bodies without signs of aggression. Some even playfully swim in circles around divers.

At cleaning stations, makos will wait patiently to have parasites removed from their skin and gills. This shows they can override predatory instincts when not hungry.

However, these sharks should never be taken for granted or treated like pets. They are still powerful wild animals capable of inflicting serious injury if provoked or unintentionally startled.

Makos cannot be expected to show friendliness in all situations. However, the reported instances of tolerant mako behavior further confirm they do not view humans as prey.

Mako Shark Conservation Status

In addition to understanding their potential danger, it is also important to examine the conservation status of mako shark populations. Their numbers are under growing threat worldwide.

Both shortfin and longfin mako sharks are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Their populations have declined significantly over the past few decades.

Major threats include targeted fishing for mako shark meat and fins, as well as substantial bycatch from industrial tuna and swordfish fleets. They are slow to reproduce, making it hard to replenish numbers.

While not every fishery targets them directly, makos are taken in many regions when caught on lines or in nets. Increased fishing pressure is decimating global populations.

However, some protections are now in place. Mako sharks gained new trade restrictions and management requirements under the CITES treaty in 2019. Further safeguards are still needed to prevent extinction.

By understanding these powerful sharks in their entirety, we gain motivation to protect them before it is too late. Their place as ocean top predators is irreplaceable.


Florida Museum: Species Implicated in Attacks

IUCN Red List: Shortfin Mako

IUCN Red List: Longfin Mako

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