Although the great white shark is without dispute the most popular of sharks it’s the closely related shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) that might be the most quintessential of all shark species. It’s as streamlined and graceful as they come, an efficiently evolved animal that might just be, the perfect shark. It’s a shark of superlatives, the fastest of all sharks, capable of bursts of speed up to 43mph (70 km/h) and airborne leaps in excess of 30’ (9.1 meters). It’s also functionally warm-blooded, which helps it hunt the fastest of all fishes, the tuna and billfishes. In addition to hunting fishes the shortfin mako is also known to hunt dolphins, other sharks, sea turtles, and cephalopods.
Pound for pound, the shortfin mako is one of the most powerful predators in the sea; quick, agile, and alert to a degree unlike any other shark species, with a distribution that extends around the globe. The figure we’re looking at today is the Safari Ltd. mako shark, produced in 1997. The toy is 22 years old and as such can be hard to find, but worth the effort. Let’s take a look!
Although the figure only states that it’s a mako shark we know that it’s specifically a shortfin mako because there are only two species of mako shark, the other being the longfin mako (Isurus paucus). The two mako sharks are visually very similar but as the names suggest, one has longer pectoral fins than the other, quite a bit longer in fact. The shortfin mako is also the more well known and common of the two species. Mako sharks belong to the Lamnidae (mackerel shark) family along with the great white, salmon, and porbeagle shark which all resemble each other to a large degree. The Lamnidae family is but one family in the Lamniformes order which contains species as diverse as sandtiger, goblin, and megamouth sharks among many others.
The figure measures about 6.5” (16.5cm) from nose to tail but is presented in a curved position that makes the toy 5” (12.7cm). The shortfin mako averages about 10’ (3.2 meters) with larger specimens reaching about 14’ (4.2 meters). There are always big fish stories however and specimens up to 20’ (6 meters) have been reported but not verified. This puts the figure in the 1:20 scale range. The figure is solid and heavy, made of harder material than more recent Safari sharks.
The Safari mako shark is presented in a dynamic posture you don’t normally see with shark figures. Most are in a static position, mouth agape, maybe with a curve in the tail. This figure illustrates nicely the flexibility and agility of the mako shark. The body is arched in such a way that the figure rests on the caudal and pectoral fins while the head is lifted in the air. It can also be positioned so that the head and pectorals are resting on the ground and the tail is lifted.
It seems as though Safari positioned this figure in a leaping pose similar to that illustrated by author and artist Richard Ellis in this piece. The shortfin mako is an extremely popular sports fish, especially among sharks, because of its breathtaking aerial displays while hooked. The figure is also sculpted with its mouth closed so although it’s a great display piece it’s probably not much fun for kids. Personally, I like shark toys with closed mouths, the same way I prefer closed mouth dinosaur toys.
Anatomically the figure successfully captures the powerful, sleek build of the shortfin mako. The snout is pointed, eyes large, and body fusiform in shape. All the fins are properly proportioned, there are no claspers so this shark is a female, and all five large gill slits are present as well. Like all members of the mackerel shark family the lobes of the caudal fin are about equal in length which in addition to the prominent single keel on the caudal peduncle allows the shark to swim as fast as it does.
The shortfin mako has a ferocious set of long curved teeth that Ernest Hemingway described as being “shaped like a man’s fingers when they are crisped like claws”. These teeth are so menacing in appearance that the movie poster for Jaws used them in place of the white shark’s triangular teeth. But these teeth have evolved to snare fishes, not humans, and attacks are exceptionally rare. Unfortunately the Safari mako shark makes no real effort to display these teeth. They are etched into the sculpt around the mouth but painted over and barely discernable. The result is an almost toothless looking mako shark. The figure is painted blue dorsally and white ventrally, displaying the counter shading typical of many sharks, but there is no blending of the colors. The eyes are black, and the mouth is pink.
While many other, arguably better, mako shark figures exist I think few of them capture the refined grace of the shortfin mako quite like this figure does. But if you can’t track this one down I also recommend looking for the CollectA shortfin mako which barrows the dynamic posture of this shark while doing a better job with the teeth and coloration. Either way, a shark collection isn’t complete without this pinnacle of shark evolution.