Can the Ocean’s Fastest Shark Outswim Our Appetite for It?

Overfishing could be threatening shortfin makos, treasured by fishermen for their fight and their meat.

Zane Grey made his name writing adventure novels about the American West, but his real love wasn’t gunslinging or cowpoking; it was deep-sea fishing. He held 14 world records for catching saltwater fish, including the first billfish over 1,000 pounds landed with a rod and reel, a marlin he caught in Tahiti in 1930. But nothing compared to the shortfin makos he encountered off the coast of New Zealand in 1926.

The first mako Grey got on the line was a 258-pounder, and when he reeled it to the side of the boat, “quickly I learned something about mako!” he wrote in his book Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand. “He put up a terrific battle, broke one gaff, soaked us through with water, and gave no end of trouble.” Once the shark was landed, Grey marveled at its build—streamlined, muscular, with a head like a bullet. “I had never seen its like,” he wrote. “Every line of this mako showed speed and power.”

But it was the 1,200-pounder that the captain of his boat battled that led to almost mythical superlatives. After a long fight in which the mako “leapt prodigiously and made incredible runs,” the shark bit through the leader and escaped. “I was terrified,” the captain told Grey. “It seemed that mako filled the whole sky. He was the most savage and powerful brute I ever saw, let alone had on a line!”

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