New Jersey's waters are teeming with Sharks. The variety is astounding. Here are the details of those sharks of most importance to NJ Shark Fishermen.
The Shortfin Mako Shark is a large breed of Mackerel Shark. Its formal name is Isurus Oxyrinchus. Other nicknames include Blue Pointer and Bonito Shark. Most commonly, it’s known as the Mako, a Māori word for “shark” or “shark tooth”, a language spoken by the Māori people of New Zealand. These sharks have a cone-shaped snout, long gill slits, and tall caudal fin. Its cylindrical body is grey/blue on top with a white underside. Mako Sharks are the fastest breed of shark in the world. They can average speeds of 25 mph, and there are reports of short bursts up to 60 mph. Their streamlined shape and speed allow them to leap out of the water. For these reasons, the Mako Shark is a highly sought after game fish.
Female Mako Sharks reach sexual maturity around 18 years of age while males reach maturity around eight years of age. They have a long gestation period of 15-18 months. The gestation period, late maturity age, and an 18-month resting period after births make Makos vulnerable to overfishing practices. The development of the pups during pregnancy is ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs remain in the mother’s body until they are ready to hatch, but a placenta does not attach them. The embryos feed on yolk stored in the yolk sac. Once they hatch, pups will eat unfertilized or less developed eggs. The litter is birthed in late winter or early spring. The litter consists of eight to ten pups usually, each one measuring around 28 inches. Makos have a lifespan of about 28 years. The average adult will grow to be 10 feet and weigh up to 300 lbs. The females are typically larger than the males, growing up to 12 feet.
The Mako shark inhabits warmer waters worldwide. They swim offshore and can stay near the surface of the water or dive as deep as 500 feet. Makos are vaunted hunters, swimming below their prey before charging upwards and tearing off pieces of their prey. Their body temperature is higher than the surrounding waters, which allows them to have a higher rate of activity, a distinct advantage over cold-blooded prey. They consume up to 3% of their body weight daily. Makos feed mainly upon cephalopods and bony fish like Mackerels, Tunas, and Swordfish. Even though they are the top predator in the ocean, Makos can suffer injuries while hunting. Their only predator, once fully grown, are humans. The overall population of Makos is believed to be decreasing. Its conservation status is currently listed as vulnerable.
Mako's are caught in NJ waters from May to October with the pinnacle late May and June. Water temps in the mid 60's are perfect for Mako fishing. While Mako's are occasionally caught inshore most fishermen target Mako's in mid-shore areas (no need to run to the canyon). Areas around wrecks or where bottom formations cause upwelling is the best place to start. Popular Mako's fishing locations in NJ include the Mudhole, Triple Wrecks, Resor Wreck, and The Fingers
The Thresher Shark has no shortage of nicknames. Scientifically known as Alopias Vulpinus, the Thresher Shark may also be referred to as Atlantic Thresher, Big-eye Thresher, Fox Shark, and Green Thresher among others. Thresher Sharks have numerous distinguishing characteristics, most notably the scythe shaped upper lobe of their caudal fin. The upper lobe can match the length of the rest of its body. They have a stout body and short compact head. Their color ranges from a gray to near black on the upper body. Their white under belly can extend up to their large black eyes.
Thresher Sharks breed in the summertime, and have a gestation period of nine months. Like many other breeds of shark, Thresher’s are ovoviviparous. The embryos feed on eggs passed into the uterus, and uterine cannibalism does occur. Pups are born in open water, measuring between 3.5 and 5 feet in length and weighing 11 to 13 pounds. There are approximately two to four pups per litter. Thresher’s mature rapidly and reproduce annually once they are sexually mature. Males reach maturity at about 10.5 feet, while females vary from 8.5-14.8 feet. Thresher Sharks live at least 15 years, with a maximum lifespan of 45-50 years.
The Thresher Shark will inhabit oceanic and coastal waters, tropical and cold-temperate waters. They are usually observed far from the coast, but travel inward for food. Juveniles often reside in coastal bays and near the shore. Threshers tend to stay near the surface of the water, but can reach depths of 1,800 feet. They are highly migratory sharks, and live across the globe. Thresher Sharks are unique hunters. They feed mainly upon bony fish. Threshers are not social sharks, but will sometimes herd fish in pairs by swimming around them. Once the prey is in a compact school, Threshers strike them with their long caudal fin to incapacitate their prey before feeding. Because of this tactic, Threshers have been hooked through their caudal fins by fishermen. The species is vulnerable to overfishing, and its conservation status reflects that.
The Blue Shark’s formal name is Prionace Glauca. They are commonly referred to as Blue Sharks because of the dark blue coloring on top of their bodies. The shading gets lighter on their sides and their underside is white. Blue sharks are distinguished by their elongated slender bodies and long pectoral fins.
Male blue sharks court females by biting, so females have developed a thicker layer of fat for protection. After a gestation period of about one year, blue sharks are born live between 1.5 and 2 feet. Litters of pups range from 25 to 50, but may vary up to 135 pups. They are fully matured at seven or eight feet, weighing in around 400 pounds. Larger sharks may grow to be 12 feet. Males mature by age 4 or 5, and females by 5 or 6 years.
Blue sharks swim in temperate and tropical waters. They migrate across the Atlantic Ocean each year following the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. They may swim near the surface of the water, or dive as deep as 350 meters. Their diet is comprised of mainly squid, pelagic fish and cephalopods; however, they are opportunistic and will feed on other specimens. The blue shark population is unknown because of a fragmented population. Their conservation status is considered lower risk/near threatened.
The Carcharhinus Plumbeus is commonly known as the Brown Shark or Sandbar Shark. They get their nickname from crossing on top of sandbars. Brown Sharks are usually a slate gray or brown in color, and their underside is usually a paler version of their tops or white. They have heavy set bodies with a tall triangular dorsal fin and long pectoral fins. Their snouts are rounded with sharp pointed teeth that are uneven.
Female Brown Sharks ovulate in the early summer, have a gestation period of 8 to 12 months, and birth an average of 6 to 13 pups per litter. The pups stay in nursery areas before maturing and moving into deeper waters. Full maturity is an average of six feet in males, and 7 to 8 feet in females. Brown sharks prefer shallow waters in the summer. Regardless of season, they spend most of their time near the bottom of the water column searching for food. Brown Sharks feed on fish and crustaceans. They are listed as a vulnerable species, with concerns of overfishing.
Hammerhead Sharks are a group of sharks from the Sphyrnidae family. They have distinctive heads that are flattened and extended laterally, resembling a hammer. They use their head when hunting for their prey by pinning them down, eating once it is stunned and weak. Stingrays are their preferred prey, but will feed on other fish, squid, and crustaceans. Hammerheads have small mouths and rely on bottom hunting, where they spend most of their time.
The male Hammerhead Shark courts a female by viciously biting her until she agrees to mate. A litter of Hammerhead Sharks range from 12 to 15 pups. For the larger species, their litters can spawn up to 40 pups. The litter travels together to warm waters until they are old enough to survive on their own. Males mature around 7 to 9 feet, and females reach 8 to 10 feet. The Great Hammerhead Shark species can grow up to 20 feet and weigh over 1,000 lbs. Their population appears to be on the decline, and some conservation efforts have been implemented to curtail this trend.
The Carcharias Taurus, commonly known as the Sand Tiger Shark, is known for it’s menacing looks. These sharks can grow up to 10.5 feet and weight 350 lbs. Females reach maturity around 6 years and 7 feet, while males mature at 5 years and 6 feet. Their mouths extend further than other shark species, and sharp teeth stick out in different directions. Despite their appearance, Sand Tiger Sharks are relatively harmless to humans.
Sand Tiger Sharks got their name because they are found close to the shore. Their habitat can be located in the surf, bay, or coral and rocky reefs. These sharks come up for air and store it in their stomachs. This helps them float stationary in the water as a method of hunting. Sand Tiger Sharks feed at night on small bony fish, and to a lesser extent, crustaceans. These sharks have a low reproduction rate, which means they are a vulnerable population.