What's it like to be chased by one of the ocean's champion swimmers? Have a look for yourself:
That incoming toothed missile is a shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), one of the fastest sharks to cruise the open ocean. The animals can reach top speeds that rival those of some racehorses – an explosive display of power and agility that's earned them the moniker "blue dynamite".
This particular speedster was filmed by the crew of the Pumpin' Hard (yes, really), during a 2014 marlin fishing tournament off the Maryland coast.
To be clear, the baitfish you see in this video are hookless, and pose no danger to the shark. These so-called "umbrella rigs" mimic live, schooling fish (the idea being that predators who are drawn in by the action may show greater interest in hooked lines set by anglers aboard the fishing vessel). After an initial take, the clever mako returned until each fish had been systematically removed from its wire anchor.
This particular rig was built by PelagicView Dredges (PVD), a company that specialises in bait-cam setups. And unbelievable as it may be, the footage has not been sped up. "It was filmed at 30 frames per second [standard speed in the US] on a GoPro Hero2," explains fisherman Scotty Pierce, who shot the video. "I actually had to stabilise it a little bit so that it looked like it wasn't sped up. Our raw footage didn't look real because of how fast that fish was!"
Life in the open ocean means makos have to make quick work of hunting. Their recurved teeth are perfect for grasping onto swift swimmers like tuna, mackerel and swordfish, but they've even been known to hunt other sharks, including the agile blue shark. The secret to their success lies in a streamlined body and muscular "high tail", which sits at just the right angle to provide maximum thrust for extreme bursts of speed.
Underwater and unimpeded by fishing line, the shortfin mako has been reliably clocked at 30 miles (about 50 km) per hour. During an experiment in New Zealand waters, researchers reported that one shark – a one-year-old juvenile – managed to accelerate at a whopping 50 feet (15 metres per second) when tempted with bait.
"This rate rivals that of the very fastest sport cars and seems rather improbable," notes ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research director R. Aidan Martin. "But whatever its actual top speed, there is little doubt that the shortfin mako is able to catch and eat very speedy prey."
Not enough mako chasing for one day? Check out this clip, filmed the year before on a PVD rig:
Top header image: Mark Conlin