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The Science Behind: A Shortfin Mako's Last Meal

“You can find all kinds of things in a shark stomach,” says NOAA Fisheries scientist Antonella Preti, who has dissected more than 
2,000 swordfish and shark stomaches. Oh we can just imagine—well, if you’re gutsy enough, you don’t have to just imagine it. Watch our new video as we follow Preti performing a gut analysis on a shortfin mako shark weighing in at 1,323 pounds and 12 feet long. Maybe you think seal is the only thing sharks want to eat these days, but guess again. Our scientists will show you there was something different on the menu for this shark. We gather this kind of information on sharks so we can get a better sense about how creatures in the ocean are interrelated. Learn more when you watch the video below. Exit

You can talk to Antonella Preti live on Twitter during this year's NOAA Fisheries Shark Week tweet chat on August 8 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Join the conversation and ask her anything you want to know about sharks.

It takes guts to be a scientist. See what we mean below and visit NOAA Fisheries YouTube channel to watch more videos.


Sink Your Teeth into More NOAA Shark Week Features! 



Mako Sharks - Were You Wondering? 

What is a mako shark’s typical diet?
Mako sharks are opportunistic feeders and eat a variety of things including many different kinds of fish, squid, small marine mammals, and birds. After they grow quite large, they are big enough to take down full grown marine mammals like adult seals and sea lions.

Are sharks warm or cold-blooded?
The answer is both. Some sharks are cold-blooded but makos are warm-blooded sharks. Being warm helps them digest more quickly and also makes them better swimmers. Makos may be the fastest of all sharks.

Are there other ways to study what a shark eats besides looking in their stomachs?
Yes, you can take samples of the shark’s body (liver, muscle) and perform a chemical analysis or examine stable isotopes. Isotopic signatures change depending on where you are in the ocean and at what level of the food web you are eating. Consequently by looking at isotopes we can get a sense for both foraging and migration. More recent analyses of fatty acids allow us to identify specific prey items in the diets.  Sharks, like all animals, “are what they eat.”

Do all sharks have the same shape of teeth?
No. There are a wide variety of tooth shapes that can change as the shark grows up.  Mako sharks have very pointed teeth, while adults great whites have triangular, serrated teeth. Each leave a unique, but tell-tale mark on their prey.

For stomach dissections and analysis, would NOAA Fisheries ever target the largest sharks in the ocean for its research?
No, but if sharks like this possibly record-breaking mako shark are caught by fishermen, NOAA Fisheries will request access to information about the shark and certain body parts to advance out research on  diet, age, growth, and reproduction.

After a shark eats something as big as a seal or a sea lion, how does the shark pass the head/skull?
After all the muscle and soft tissue is digested, mako sharks regurgitate the bones and the skull.