Summer plans are in full swing this year. You’ll likely anticipate visiting your local beaches and rivers, even if you don’t travel far. If you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy incredible water sport opportunities such as surfing, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and more. You might also catch a glimpse of migrating wildlife during the warmer months.
That is especially true if you live near or are vacationing off the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, or up the east coast of the United States. Two unique species are currently in the middle of their migration near those areas. They are the whale shark and the shortfin mako shark.
Whale shark migration
Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish at a length of nearly 40 feet (or longer!). Their 15-ton weight requires mass volumes of plankton and small fish to maintain. They scour the seas for their meals, ranging far and wide. The whale shark’s unique spotted pattern is well known to ocean enthusiasts, as is its gentle giant reputation.
Whale sharks are popular around the world in many locations. But each year they migrate along the Gulf of Mexico and the northeastern Yucatán Peninsula and the Caribbean between May and September. Scientists speculate this migration serves multiple purposes such as optimizing growth and foraging opportunities. Migration also serves as a breeding opportunity and access to potential birthing grounds. Scientists still have much to learn about female whale shark birthing locations and migratory patterns.
Shortfin mako shark migration
Shortfin mako sharks also migrate during the same months each year. These predatory sharks can reach 12 feet in length and weigh 1200 pounds. They are known for their incredible speed, which can achieve up to 45 miles per hour. They are the fastest shark, and also one of the most acrobatic, as they frequently leap up to nine feet from the water while hunting. These capabilities give it the distinction of being one the “super sharks.”
Shortfin mako sharks are found worldwide throughout topical and temperate waters, although they have also been found in deeper waters. Their migration takes place from June through October, where they range between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. Many can be found in June off the coast of southern New Jersey and New York. Scientists are still determining details on their migratory pattern, since these sharks seem to travel great distances with conflicting evidence of consistent migratory patterns. They do seem to travel to feed, to mate, and to deliver pups.
The Great Shark Race
The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) has implemented a 2021 “Great Shark Race” to monitor specific tagged whale sharks and shortfin makos as they migrate. GHRI actually tracks many others as well, such as tiger sharks, smooth hammerheads, blue marlin, and more. But this race is between the whale sharks and shortfin makos.
Each tagged animal can be tracked to see who is in the lead, where they have been, and where they are going. View the interactive maps here, and pick your own favorite to be the “winner”!
The Great Shark Race is an opportunity to continue learning about these amazing marine creatures, and where and why they migrate. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn and share knowledge.
Is this your opportunity?
Perhaps this summer will be your opportunity to see some of these wonders of the ocean in person. Or if not, check in on the race from home to see how they are progressing over the next few months. Either way, the Great Shark Race is an excellent way to involve yourself in the wonders of the ocean.