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11 Fastest Fish In The Ocean

Animals have a variety of useful survival strategies, from thick skin to camouflage and poison. However, speed is a universal and essential asset most creatures use to survive in the wild. What do marine creatures use if terrestrial and avian creatures rely on their feet and wings? And who is the fastest fish among all of them?

Fish have several modifications that improve their swimming skills and speed. For instance, the flying fish's modified fins provide gliding skills. In this article, we will discuss the 11 fastest fish in the world. Swim into the world of various swift fish species in this article, discussing maximum speed, their location, and aquatic behaviors. 

The Ocean's Speedsters: Top 11 Fastest Fish

1. Sailfish  (Istiophorus platypterus)

sailfish
Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service on Flickr (Public Domain).

Maximum speed: 78 mph (125.5 kph)

The sailfish is a member of the billfish family. This large predator fish that weighs about 200 pounds and grows up to 11 feet long. It gets its name from its large, sail-like dorsal fin, which resembles the sail of a ship. The sailfish is said to be one of the fastest fish in the ocean. 

Utilizing accelerometer-equipped electronic tags, researchers from the Central American Billfish Association of RSMAS, University of Miami, recorded the sailfish's impressive top speed of 78 mph. This largely surpasses an alternative study by Marras and Noda et al., which identified a maximum speed of just 23 mph2. These results explain the challenges of gauging the sailfish's speed.

Sailfish are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide. They use a long, prominent bill to feed on anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and cephalopods. Sailfish chase after a school of fish by folding their fins back completely and speeding toward their target. 

2. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)

blue shark
Photo by Diego Delso on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Maximum speed:  22-61 mph (35-97 kph)

The blue shark is next on our list of fastest fish in the ocean. This type of shark is an active predator native to the world’s oceans. You will find this requiem shark in tropical and temperate waters. It has a sleek body, large eyes, pointed snout, and long, pointed fins.

Blue sharks can weigh up to 450 pounds and grow up to 11 feet long. They get most of their swimming speed by moving their long tail fins side to side. There isn't an exact record of their speed in open waters, but some claim they swim 61 miles per hour. Others say they swim 22 miles per hour.

The blue shark species is a migratory species, frequenting the South West coast of England in summer periods. They often form a school with sharks of similar sizes. Their streamlined body is a shade of metallic blue, with white underbelly. Blue sharks feed on other fish, squid, and sea birds. 

3. Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)

shortfin mako shark
Photo by Mark Conlinon Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Maximum speed:  46 mph (74 kph)

Shortfin mako shark is one of the fastest fish in the ocean1. It also holds the record of the fastest shark, moving at an impressive burst speed of 46 miles per hour. However, a study using direct measurements recorded a maximum speed at 11.2 miles per hour.

The fish’s body has a streamlined shape with a dark blue underside and a lighter shade of blue on the upper side. The color contrast enables it to blend into the deep waters. Mako can grow up to 12 feet long and weigh 1200 pounds. Its powerful muscles allow it to make spectacular leaps out of the water.

Mako sharks live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, inhabiting the coasts of America, New Zealand, and Australia. They are also found in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. A study on their energy usage shows that they have a high oxygen demand due to the ocean's deoxygenation caused by climate change.

4. Black Marlin (Istiompax indica)

Maximum speed:  80 mph (129 kph)

The black marlin is a commercial fishing species with numerous fins arrayed on its body. It has two dorsal fins, a pair of anal fins, a lunate caudal fin, and pectoral fins. It is native to tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. You can also find it in temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 

You can easily mistake the blue marlin with the black marlin. However, the difference is that black marlin has lower and rounder anal and dorsal fins. Black marlin grows over 4 m in length and weighs over 700 kg. It is a heavy fish.  

The black marlin is one of the fastest fish in the ocean. According to the BBC, the black marlin has a top speed of 80 miles per hour.  They measured its speed by calculating how fast the line came off the reel.  The black marlin’s crescent-shaped tail and its sharp bill slicing through water help it reach top speeds.

5. Swordfish (Xiphias gladius)

Maximum speed: 97 kilometers per hour

The swordfish is one of the fastest fish in the ocean, with a maximum speed of 97 kilometers per hour. Recent experiments on the swordfish led to the discovery of an oil-producing gland at the base of its bill. The gland produces fatty acids on its skin through pores and capillaries3, creating a water-repelling layer across the swordfish’s head.

What does the swordfish look like? The swordfish is a species of some of the fastest fish in the world, the billfish. They get their name from their flat, sharp snouts that resemble a long blade. They weigh an average of 200 pounds and grow up to 10 feet long. You will find them in warm tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

6. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis)

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Photo by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Maximum speed: 43 mph (70 kph)

Next on our list of fast fish in the ocean is a type of tuna. One of the three bluefin species, it dwells in the Pacific Ocean, surviving on smaller fish, squid, octopus, and crustaceans. It weighs up to 1000 pounds and grows up to 10 feet long.

Bluefin tuna live close to the open ocean and migrate through deep waters, reaching depths of 1800 feet during migrations. They have several useful survival strategies that help them swim faster.  

Their body is streamlined to reduce drag around their fins. They can also fold their fins against their body to swim more efficiently. They reach speeds of 43 miles per hour. As they swim, they open their mouths to push water over their gills to supply oxygen. 

7. Flying Fish (Exocoetidae)

flying fish
Photo by Mike Prince on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Maximum speed: 35 mph (56 kph)

Flying fish is one of the fastest fish in the world. They are ray-finned fish with highly modified pectoral fins. Flying fish species don’t fly like their name suggests. They glide over the open ocean. There are about 40 species of flying fish native to tropical and temperate waters. They live on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian coasts.

Flying fish are up to 18 inches long. They have an uneven forked tail- the top lobe is shorter than the bottom lobe. Many people believe they use their flying mechanism to avoid marine predators. However, they are more vulnerable to birds of prey when they are gliding above the open ocean. 

Flying fish’s forward propulsion out of water occurs at 56 kilometers per hour. Their pectoral fins allow them to glide for up to 650 feet before they return to the water. Flying fish swim in the water by folding their big fins into their sides, making their body shape more streamlined.

Juvenile flying fish have filaments protruding from their lower jaw, helping them camouflage as plant blossoms. They eat various kinds of marine animals, but the bulk of their diet is plankton. Most flying fish's preferred habitat is the open ocean, but some prefer to live on the outskirts of coral reefs. 

8. Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri)

wahoo
Photo by NOAA FishWatch on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Maximum speed:  50 mph (80 kph)

Next on our list of the fastest fish in the world is wahoo. Wahoo is a long, narrow fish with a beak-like snout and many dorsal fins projecting from its dorsal-ventral ridges. The top of its body is steel blue, while the bottom is pale blue. Other sources claim wahoo fish is cobalt blue.

They also have 25 to 30 blackish-blue vertical bands extending down the side below the lateral line. They are native to the tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Fishermen catch them on the coasts of South America, Australia, and the Caribbean.

Wahoos grow up to 180 pounds, and their body lengths reach 7 feet. They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, swimming 80 kilometers per hour. Wahoo fish diet includes fish with bony spines like carangids, clupeids, and scombrids. They also eat cephalopods, flying fishes, garfish, and needlefish.

9. Tarpons (Megalops atlanticus)

tarpons
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.

Maximum speed: 35 mph (56 kph)

Tarpon, also called SilverFish, is a silver-colored fish that weighs 350 pounds and can grow up to 8 feet long. Tarpons have large 37 - 42 scales along their lateral line, with their dorsal fin in the middle of their body and the anal fin located towards the rear end. 

Tarpons are widespread around the world. They thrive in tropical and temperate regions, bays, estuaries, mangrove lagoons, coastal waters, and rivers. They thrive in the Atlantic Ocean, from the Eastern Atlantic (Senegal, Angola, the coast of Portugal, and the Azores) to the Western Atlantic (North Carolina, Brazil, USA to Bahia, and the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean). 

Tarpons are among the fastest fish in the world, with an average speed of 35 miles per hour. Anglers love tarpons because of their size and fighting spirit. They don't get caught easily. Besides their incredible speed, tarpons have a swim bladder in their esophagus, which helps them live in brackish waters.  

10. Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

barracuda
Photo by Rickard Zerpe on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Maximum speed: 36 mph (58 kph)

Another one of the fastest fish in the world is barracuda. Barracudas are native to the open ocean and reefs around the world. These long, silvery fish have a pointed head, an enormous mouth, and long teeth resembling knives. They also have separated, while young barracudas have soft dorsal fins and black anal and caudal fins.

They weigh an average of 88 pounds and grow up to 6.6 feet long. The solitary fish species moves at 36 mph while hunting for a meal. Barracudas enjoy eating other fish, regardless of their size. They have an enormous gape that helps them consume large meals by cutting them in half.

11. The Pacific Bonito (Sarda chiliensis lineolata)

Maximum speed: 43 miles

The Pacific bonito is a fast-growing fish species. They weigh 22 pounds and reach lengths of 32 to 35 inches. As the bonito grows larger, its swimming skills improve. It swims 43 miles daily in the Pacific Ocean, from Chile to the Gulf of Alaska.

Conclusion 

The speeds of these marine creatures are not merely exhilarating but crucial for their survival, allowing them to catch prey and elude predators, including fishing gear! Figuring out their top speeds can be challenging, but we hope this article gives you a snapshot of these speedy swimmers in action!

For more information on other interesting creatures, head to our article about the different types of fish.

1

Waller, M., Queiroz, N., Da Costa, I., Cidade, T., Loureiro, B., Womersley, F. C., Fontes, J., Afonso, P., Macena, B. C. L., Loveridge, A., Humphries, N. E., Southall, E. J., & Sims, D. (2023). Direct measurement of cruising and burst swimming speeds of the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) with estimates of field metabolic rate. Journal of Fish Biology, 103(5), 864–883.

2

Marras, S., Noda, T., Steffensen, J. F., Svendsen, M. B. S., Krause, J., Wilson, A. D. M., Kurvers, R. H. J. M., Herbert‐Read, J. E., Boswell, K. M., & Domenici, P. (2015). Not So Fast: Swimming Behavior of Sailfish during Predator–Prey Interactions using High-Speed Video and Accelerometry. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 55(4), 719–727.

3

Videler, J. J., Haydar, D., Snoek, R., Hoving, H., & Szabo, B. (2016). Lubricating the swordfish head. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219(13), 1953–1956.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo from Needpix.
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