With a well-defined pointed snout, triangular dorsal fin, a signature crescent-shaped tail fin and their fearsome teeth protruding from their mouth…the mako shark is an icon among the world’s oceans.
Today, there are 2 living species of makos sharks, both the Atlantic and Pacific Shortfin mako and the lesser known, Longfin Mako.
This classic looking, torpedo-shaped shark is classified in the mackerel shark family, a group that includes the porbeagle, or salmon shark and the well-known White Shark.
Known for a dark metallic blue appearance on top and silvery white below, Makos are well adapted for the open ocean waters where they are found.
Shortfin makos are true pelagic species found in open waters throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans at depths more than 1500 feet. They may also be found near the surface and coastal areas where the continental shelf is short.
The mako shark is a very hydrodynamically efficient swimmer. The shortfin mako is considered the fastest shark in the world, able to reach burst swimming speeds of up to 43 mph, one of the fastest animals in the ocean.
Their tall tail fin is able to produce maximum thrust with minimum drag and provides almost all of the mako’s amazing propulsion.
In addition to their great swimming speeds, shortfin makos are also known for their incredible ability to leap out of the air, several feet above the surface of the water. A very quick and active species, they are often observed breaching the surface when feeding.
Shortfin mako sharks grow rather slowly, they can live to be over 30 years old and reach a length of 13 feet. However, males are not able to reproduce until about 8 years old, while females mature at an even slower rate, they do not reach reproductive age until they are around 19 years old.
Female shortfin makos have a 3-year reproductive cycle and a gestation period of approximately 18 months. Mating occurs from summer to fall. The eggs are fertilized internally and develop inside the mother. Though they give live birth, these sharks do not connect to their young through a placenta. Instead, during the gestation period, the mother provides her young with unfertilized eggs that they eat for nourishment, this practice is found in some shark species (like the sand tiger shark) and is known as oophagy (oh-OFF-ə-jee).
Females bear live pups, which are approximately 2 feet long when born. This large size at birth helps reduce the number of potential predators and helps to increase their chances of survival. Scientists have only examined a handful of litters but typical litter sizes are around 12, though up to 30 pups have been reported.
Shortfin mako sharks are aggressive predators that feed on large fish such as bluefish, swordfish, tuna, other sharks as well as sea turtles and some marine mammals. They have few natural predators, which are typically larger sharks that may prey on smaller makos.
The shortfin mako shark is one of the very few shark species known to have attacked and killed people, those these events are extremely rare.
The longfin mako shark is a large, predatory shark that lives worldwide and reaches a maximum length of 14 feet. Longfin makos are often confused for shortfin, but the Longfin variety has a more slender body, much longer pectoral fins -often larger than their head, and the Longfin makos also have larger eyes and the area on their snout is darker.
While Longfin Makos can be spotted near the surface, their diet of schooling fish and deep-water squids suggests that they are more deep-dwelling than the shortfin species. Very little is known about the biology of longfin mako sharks due to their more elusive nature.
It is also believed that Longfin Mako sharks are endothermic (or warm-blooded) and can maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding water, some researchers think this could also attribute to the mako’s ability to be capable of such high bursts of speed.
Found in oceans around the world, this high speed predator is also highly migratory – one mako was tracked having traveled from the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula to the northern waters of Nova Scotia. In just under 300 days, this animal traveled nearly 9800 miles.
Researchers with the Guy Harvey Research Institute have now learned through satellite tracking of tagged makos, that the sharks will often travel to the same locations, great distances apart – rather than roaming randomly, the makos appear to exhibit a finely tuned sense of place.
Both Longfin Makos and the Atlantic Shortfin Mako are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and both species have been identified by NOAA Fisheries as over-fished populations. Due to their strong and athletic abilities, Mako Sharks are often highly sought after as game fish.
While permits are required in U.S. waters to fish for highly migratory species like the mako shark, management is complicated because the species migrate thousands of miles across international boundaries and are fished by many nations. Unfortunately today, this iconic predator is highly vulnerable to extinction.
Among the grasslands and savannas of the African plains is a finely tuned hunter. A creature capable of exceptional speed and agility. Standing 2 to 3 feet at the shoulder, a body length of 4 to 5 feet, and weighing up to 150 pounds. This animal is one of the most recognizable and beloved cats in the world – the Cheetah.
The Cheetah’s fur is golden tan or pale yellow covered with the familiar solid black spots. These black spots form a pattern that is unique to each individual. The name Cheetah comes from a Hindu word meaning “spotted one.”
The Cheetah’s head is relatively small. They have large eyes set high on the head which are positioned for binocular vision, giving them excellent eyesight at long distances
Compared to other cats, a cheetah’s canine teeth have small roots, this allows for larger nasal passages, which aids in a greater flow of oxygen to the body.
Cheetahs are renowned for their speed. Their average speed during a chase is around 40 mph. Though they can reach an impressive top speed of 60-70 mph. The cheetahs acceleration is unmatched and they can reach those speeds in just three seconds.
Cheetahs have many special physical characteristics that provide enhanced benefits to provide for their quick and agile motion.
They possess enlarged hearts, lungs, adrenal glands, nasal passages and thigh muscles. In addition several other features all lend to making them the fastest land-based animal on the planet.
Their long, flexible spine acts like a spring to aid in giving them an impressive stride. Cheetahs have a stride of around 20-25 feet – same as that of a thoroughbred racehorse. While running, cheetahs can achieve four strides per second and they are airborne 50% of the time.
Their 30 inch flattened tail acts as a counterbalance and a rudder to help make quick turns.
Their shoulders are unattached to their collarbone and their hips pivot to to allow the rear legs to stretch far apart. These features give the Cheetah a greater range of motion.
Their paws are narrow and resemble those of dogs more than they do of other cats. Their blunt, semi-retractable claws act like the cleats of a running shoe. Their paw pads are rough and act like tire tread. These two characteristics aid in traction while running.
“Fast twitch” muscle fibers are what provide quick power such as when sprinting. Cheetahs have up to a 20% higher concentration of these specialized fibers compared to other fast moving animals like greyhounds and horses. “Fast twitch” muscle fibers are only efficient for quick bursts and cheetahs can only maintain maximum speed for about 30 seconds.
Cheetahs are considered diurnal and, unlike other cats, hunt during daylight, but will usually rest in the heat of the day. They rely on sight to hunt. Black stripes that run underneath of their eyes down to their upper lip are known as tear marks. These are believed to help reduce glare from the sun. They will often find a high vantage point, like a termite mound or fallen tree, to scan for prey.
Their diet is mainly made up of small to medium ungulates such as gazelles and impala. They may also take warthogs, hares, rodents, as well as the calves of larger ungulates.
Before the chase begins, they will often stalk the potential prey in a semi-crouched position and get as close as possible before charging. Their hunting behavior intensifies once the prey animal begins running. Upon catching their prey, Cheetahs suffocate the animal with a bite to the throat. Only about half of a cheetah’s hunts are successful.
Unfortunately, even if a cheetah is successful in catching prey, it still runs the risk of loosing its meal. Other African carnivores such as lions, hyenas and even vultures may drive a cheetah away from its food, so cheetah often must eat quickly. Food may also be stolen by jackals and even baboons.
Unlike many other large wild cats – such as lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers – cheetahs don’t roar. They growl when facing danger, and they vocalize with sounds more equivalent to a high-pitched chirp or bubble. Cheetahs bark when communicating with each other. The cheetah is also unique among big cats in that it can also purr while both inhaling and exhaling.
While adult female Cheetahs lead solitary lives, Males will form life-long social groups known as a coalition. Animals making up these groups are usually brothers from the same litter, though on a occasion, unrelated males may also form coalitions. These groups increase hunting success and act as a defense against other predators.
A variation of the cheetah’s famed spotted coat is sometimes seen on certain individuals known as the “King” Cheetah. These unique Cheetahs have stripes which run along their back in place of spots. This coloration is simply a genetic trait found in some cheetah’s located in and around the country of Zimbabwe.
Cheetahs were once found throughout most of Africa in a variety of habitats including some desert regions. A sub-species of Asiatic cheetah was also native to parts of the Middle East and into India.
In the last 100 years, the world has lost 90% of the wild cheetah population. Most wild cheetahs today exist in fragmented populations in pockets of Africa, occupying just 9 percent of their historic range. While fewer than 50 Asiatic cheetahs remain alive today, found exclusively in the country of Iran.
Currently, cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In Namibia, they are a protected species. Under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, they are considered Endangered.
One of the greatest threats to the cheetah in the wild is human-wildlife conflict. Over 90 percent of cheetahs live outside protected management areas, near farming communities raising cows, sheep, and goats. Farmers see cheetahs as pests and threats to their livestock and often kill them.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund – an international organization dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild – works to educate these local residents on the importance of cheetahs in the African ecosystem and promote the use of the CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog Program, which utilizes specially trained dogs that bond with the herd and use their imposing presence and loud bark to scare away potential predators and reducing the number of cheetah encounters and deaths.
Managed breeding populations in accredited zoos are also helping to protect the future of this amazing animal. On February 19, 2020 – history was made at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium when two cheetah cubs were born through in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother. This first of it’s kind birth was mad possible through a partnership between the Columbus Zoo, the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute. This groundbreaking scientific breakthrough offers another ray of hope to Africa’s most endangered cat.
Powerful and fast-flying…Skilled at catching a variety of prey – from small songbirds to large ducks…Dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. These raptors were once considered the birds of royalty.
Among the most impressive birds to watch, they are known for their high speeds, impressive aerial manuevers, and unmistakable hunting skills. Capable of reaching speeds up to 240 mph, they are the planet’s fastest animal…the Peregrine Falcon.
The word “peregrine” means “wanderer” or “pilgrim,” and Peregrine Falcons live and breed on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Their versatility allows them to live in almost any type of climate and habitat. They can be found nesting at elevations up to about 12,000 feet, as well as along rivers and coastlines. Deserts, seashores, wetlands, tundra and even atop skyscrapers in major cities are all places these birds of prey call home.
Peregrine Falcons have long, pointed wings and a long tail. Adults are blue-gray above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. They possess yellow circles around their eyes, a yellow stripe over their nose, behind their sharp, curved beak and distinct yellow feet.
The falcon’s feet are long and narrow, which allows them to reach through the long feathers of other birds and helps them grab the body of their prey when attacking.
Peregrine falcons also have small bumps just inside their nostrils, scientists believe this may help slow the air as it enters the bird’s nose when traveling at high speeds, allowing them to maintain their breathing.
As with most raptor species, female Peregrines are larger than males.
Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey, a Peregrine Falcon uses many strategies for hunting but they typically catch their prey in the air with fast pursuits, rapid dives, and other impressive aerial maneuvers for which these falcons are known and admired.
Perhaps its most famous hunting technique is the dive – known as a stoop. This involves the bird flying high into the sky, then using its keen eyesight to locate birds flying below. When it spots its prey, the falcon folds its wings and falls into a nose dive gaining speeds of over 200 mph. Just before impact, the falcon closes its feet, and uses them to stun or even knock the prey out of the sky. They then catch the bird and bite through the neck to kill it.
When not stooping after its prey, Peregrine Falcons will pursue their prey in a swift aerial chase. Though it cannot move as fast as when in a nose dive, a Peregrine Falcon, in horizontal flight, can still rival a cheetah for speed! Typical hunting speeds are between 60 and 100 miles per hour.
Peregrine Falcons also may hunt from the vantage point of an exposed perch such as a cliff-side or the ledge of a city skyscraper where they often hunt pigeons. At sea, Peregrine Falcons use ships, which provide high perches, to hunt for seabirds.
Peregrine Falcons will sometimes dismember their prey and eat it in flight, or they will land with their prey in a safe spot, pluck the feathers, and eat. Pairs have been observed hunting cooperatively; to flush, chase, and catch their prey.
They are mainly bird hunters, 450 North American species have been documented as prey, and the number worldwide may be as many as 2,000 species, including starlings, pigeons, blackbirds, jays, shorebirds, and waterfowl, including ducks larger than the falcon themselves. They also occasionally hunt land mammals, reptiles, and insects. There have also been reports of some Peregrine Falcons specializing in eating bats.
Peregrine Falcons not only fly fast, some populations fly incredibly long distances, too. In the northern part of their range, Peregrine Falcons are migratory, and some birds travel from the Arctic tundra nearly to Antarctica, making a yearly round trip journey of more than 20,000 miles.
An elite predator, the falcons do have their own natural predators, including Gyrfalcons, eagles, Great Horned owls, and even other Peregrines.
Peregrine Falcons typically nest on cliffs from about 25–1,300 feet high. In places without cliffs, Peregrines may use abandoned Raven, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, or cormorant nests. Other nest sites may include silos, skyscrapers, bridges and tall phone and power towers.
Males typically select a few possible nest ledges at the beginning of each season and the female chooses from these. The female lays three to five eggs, which are incubated for about 34 days. Though the male does help incubate, the female does the majority of the incubating. She relies on the male to bring her food. After the chicks hatch and as they are growing, both the male and female provide food for the young. To feed their chicks, the adults use their beak to rip up small pieces of meat and gently pass them to the nestlings.
When they hatch, the chicks are covered with fluffy white down and have very large feet in proportion to their bodies. The young falcons grow up quickly and in just 5-6 weeks, the falcons are fully feathered and ready to fly. They still stay with their parents for a few months, learning to hunt, before leaving the adults’ territory. Falcons reach sexual maturity in 1 to 3 years.
Peregrine Falcons have had cultural significance for humans throughout history and they remain one of the most popular birds in the sport of falconry. Peregrine Falcons that are trained as falconry birds are sometimes flown by their trainers at airports to scare off ducks and other birds that could collide with a plane and cause accidents.
The Peregrine Falcon currently appears on US currency – featured on the Idaho state quarter. The state of Idaho is home to the Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1970 to save the Peregrine Falcon.
Due to the effects of the pesticide – DDT – the Peregrine Falcon was declared an endangered species as populations in the eastern United States became extinct by 1969 with very few birds remaining elsewhere in the country.
Though many people didn’t think it could be done, The Peregrine Fund and other organizations worked together to raise thousands of Peregrine Falcons in captivity by pioneering many techniques for successfully breeding the birds in captivity and releasing them into the wild.
Through captive breeding and release, these falcons were restored to their historic range throughout the United States. More than 4,000 young birds have been released and in 1999, the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List. Today, it is still one of the most successfully recovered endangered species ever.
Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:
Audubon Center for Birds Of Prey
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation
Guy Harvey Research Institute
The Peregrine Fund
San Diego Zoo Global
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Guide
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