Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mako Sharks: The Ultimate Trophy? Think Again.

This past Monday, some fisherman off the coast of California caught and killed a shortfin mako shark that broke the previous record. The new record now stands at an impressive 1,325.5lbs. That is obviously a massive fish, but where is the issue here. What's the difference between this massive shark being killed and the thousands of other mako sharks being killed? Realistically nothing. The fisherman did abide by all rules in catching this shark. When you look a litter deeper though, there is a big problem that has nothing to do with the fisherman who caught the shark. The issue lies within the other fisherman and a television crew that were on board the boat. During the catch, one of the television crew described the shark to KTLA saying "It's like a giant nightmare swimming around!". There words on television is more than enough to instill fear into a population. Another fisherman basically said that taking a few sharks will not effect the populations of these animals. So lets look at the issues a little closer.

First of all, a little introduction to the shark known as the shortfin mako...

So here is the shortfin mako. Now for a few fast facts...

The shortfin mako is a mackerel shark just like the great white and goblin shark.

Range: Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Shortfin makos can leap 30ft into the air.

Age of Maturity: Males: 7-9 years     Female: 19-21 years

Average Maximum Weight: 1,200lbs (Females are often larger than males)

Primary diet: Squid and large fish. Adults will also eat dolphins, seals, birds, and other animals.

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

Population Trend: Decreasing

So this is the type of shark I am talking about right now. 

The fact that this catch could be on television is frankly a frightening thing for anyone who cares about these animals. The media has always portrayed sharks as these frightening, bloodthirsty animals when in reality they are far from it. Shortfin mako sharks are the fastest shark in the ocean. Capable of reaching speeds of over 60mph. They are a very popular sport fish and as with other large species of shark, they are also the target of illegal shark finning operation. This catch being shown on T.V. as a part of a reality show will do nothing but encourage fisherman to go out and kill one of these creatures for themselves. There will, I'm sure, be no mention of the fact that this species of shark is listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN's Red List. This places it just one small step below being an Endangered Species. There will be no mention that makos are rarely the size of the one that was caught by this fisherman. In fact so many makos are being taken out of the wild that the vast majority of those caught struggle to hit 300lbs, which for a mako, is not really big at all. 

 The attitude that these fisherman, and plenty of other fisherman have is that macho man attitude which can be a horror for sharks or any other large fish. Whether it is an inferiority complex that these fisherman have, or something else that makes them feel that they need to go out and kill the biggest fish they can find, it is an issue. They are so proud of their catch that they will let the animal go to waste. What I mean by that is this animal will most likely be stuffed as a trophy. Meaning it was killed to be hung on a wall somewhere. It's bad enough that one of these animals had to die and potentially put on television, but the meat and the rest of the body will go to no use other than a fisherman being able to tell his friends about his catch. 

The bottom line is that the shortfin mako shark is an animal that is fighting for it's very existence on Earth. Every year there are multiple catch and kill tournaments in the United States that specifically target these sharks. You can read above when these sharks mature in life. With the downward population trend, more and more young makos are being taken before they ever have a chance to reproduce. Even if they do get the chance to reproduce, like many other sharks, shortfin makos only give birth to a few pups at a time. Shortfin makos are under enough pressure from recreational and commercial fisheries as is. They do not need a T.V. show glorifying the killing of them added to the fire. Long line fishing, shark finning, and shark kill tournaments have put far too much pressure on these sharks and now their very existence is becoming more and more threatened on a daily basis. For those of you who think that taking one or two of these sharks out of the ocean will not hurt the population. Think again. Things are getting that bad that virtually every shark counts. If you want to catch a mako for the thrill of it, that's fine. Go out, catch it and then let it return to the sea alive and well. Do the entire ocean a favor and do not take it home and stuff it to show off to your friends. If you want to kill it and eat it, do so at your own risk. Mako sharks are literally filled with mercury. So much that the FDA recommends avoiding the consumption of mako or any other shark for that matter. So if you want to still see what is in the picture below in another 20 years, please, if you must fish for these animals, just let them go, there is no grand prize for killing these animals that can justify extinction.

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