Rare Longfin Mako Shark Signals Researchers With Stunning Data

A rare longfin mako shark has delivered its data to researchers five months after it was first tagged, revealing startling details about the predator’s habits and travels over the last half year.

The shark was tagged as part of a Discovery Channel special, Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba, which aired during Shark Week. As Grind TV reports, the longfin mako was just one of a handful of its species that have ever been equipped with a satellite tag. Researchers documented the shark on February 14 off the coast of Cojimar in northern Cuba, affixing the tag and sending the mako on its way.

Five months later, the tag separated from the shark, according to New Scientist, as it was designed to do. On July 15, it surfaced roughly 125 miles east of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and began uploading its data to researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory. Scientists were stunned to find that the mako shark followed a nearly identical path to another of its species that had been tagged in the past, swimming nearly 5,500 miles – roughly 36.5 miles a day.

The tag also documented the depths at which the shark swam, revealing that it spent most of its time in water less than 1,640 feet deep. Though the mako went deeper during the day than at night, the research team was surprised to see that at one point, the shark dove to 5,748 feet, over a mile below the surface.

John Tyminski, an associate researcher for Mote Marine Laboratory, noted the similarities between the mako shark’s path and that followed by the previously tagged specimen.

“The movement patterns of the two sharks are remarkably similar: both sharks were in the eastern Gulf in April/May, showed comparable movements through the Straits of Florida, and ended in a similar area off Chesapeake Bay in July. Both tags came off during the month of July and both sharks were mature males. Clearly there’s something in that location that’s attracting mature males in summer.”

Researchers intend to study the data not only to understand the shark’s migratory patterns, but also why it would dive so deep, where it would be forced to deal with near-freezing temperatures. Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote, noted that the mako could have been searching out food when it descended a mile beneath the waves.

“The data from this tag will help us understand why these sharks are diving so deep and how they are dealing with such cold temperatures.”

While Discovery will reportedly air an update regarding the animal at 7 p.m. on August 30, researchers will continue to study the data, probing further into the poorly understood life of the longfin mako shark.

[Photo by Mark Conlin, SWFSC Large Pelagics Program via NOAA Fisheries Service]