The animal kingdom is full of useful survival strategies, from poison to thick skin. But no matter the medium in which they move, including land, air, and even water, speed seems to be a universal and important asset to have evolved. If you cannot surprise, outlast, or outwit your predator or prey, then it’s very useful to outrun or outswim them. It’s nevertheless remarkable that some fish species can achieve high speeds in the water, given the amount of resistance and drag they have to deal with. Have you ever wondered — what is the fastest fish in the ocean?
The keys to the fish’s speed are the streamlined shape, the powerful muscles, and the numerous fins arrayed around the body, including (but not limited to) the dorsal fins projecting from the back, the pectoral fins on the sides, the anal fin, and the tail fin (which is responsible for most of the forward propulsion). Composed of bony spines or rays, these fins provide the fish with superb speed, stability, and maneuverability.
How do you measure the speed of a fish?
Measuring the speed of a random fish species isn’t easy. To make exact measurements, you need the fish to swim with a constant speed, and even more difficult, in a straight line. Although it’s impossible to tell a sailfish to swim from A to B at the same constant speed, biologists have managed to find different ways to estimate the speed of a fish.
The speed of smaller species such as bleak, trout and pike has been measured in circular fish tanks, culverts or fish passes. For fish like tuna, shark and tuna scientifics have timed the speed of running out of a line when a fish has been hooked.
The results obtained by these various observation and techniques, where all the speeds have been expressed in terms of the number of body lengths moved in 1 sec. In those cases where only the weight of the specimen was given.
Biologists concluded that the speed of swimming of fish is related to the size and to the frequency and amplitude of the tail beat. The larger the fish and the more tail beats can make, the faster. You can find Richard Bainbridge’s super interesting article here.
Now, which fish come to your mind with long body, a massive tail and can make a lot of beats per second? Let’s discuss them below…
Sailfish are the fastest fish in the ocean. They have all the ingredients for speed: they have a long body, a huge tail and they’re able to make a huge amount of beats per second.
Sailfish (Istiophorus) are one the most saught after fish in the sport fishing world, because of their beauty and because of the spectacular fight they offer. During the fight they reach enormous speed, taking a lot of line out of the reel, combined with spectacular leaps. Sailfish can attain astonishing speeds of up to 68 miles per hour.
This magnificent fighter usually feeds during day time on fish, octopuses and squids. Sailfish are mainly caught trolling with artificial lures or with dead bait (bonito, mackerel…) and also fly fishing!
Known for its striking, sail-like dorsal fin and sleek body, they inhabit tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian ocean. Sailfish are found offshore and over deeper reefs. They generally stay near the surface of the water, where temperatures are warmer and migrate following warmer water currents.
Sailfish can weigh up to 90 kg (200 pounds) and grow up to 3 m (9.7 ft) in length.
More about Sailfish? You might to know about the differences between Marlin vs Sailfish
Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) also belong in the list of fastest fish in the world. Some reports indicate it is capable of speeds nearly 60 miles per hour. They live in the sub-tropical and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Meditarranean Sea and Indian Ocean. Swordfish can grow over 3 meters in length and weigh more than 600 kg (1350lb).
Swordfish are vigorous, powerful fighters; once they’re hooked up deep down below, they can all of a sudden jump out of the water and immediately go back to the abbyss.
By their big eyes you can tell these billfish like to live and hunt deep below the surface. They use to stay near deep canyons, near ridges, craters or areas with pinnacles. Swordfish come to the surface at night and prefer deeper waters during daytime.
Another long fish with a large tail is the Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri). Also known as Ono (meaning “delicious” in Hawaiian), they are found in many subtropical and tropical waters. They’re identifiable by their blue-green upper body which shifts into silver towards their belly. They also have blue vertical striping along their sides. These predators are torpedo-shaped and have razor sharp teeth.
The wahoo fish can be caught trolling or jigging, mainly inshore. Anglers love this fish because they’re super strong, because they’re great fighters and also because they’re very good eating.
Wahoo fish are one of the fastest fish of the ocean. They can reach a speed of 48 mph / 77 kph. Only blue marlin and saifish do better!
Tuna’s muscles are built for speed. According to researches from the University of California San Diego, tunas have a unique muscle system and body shape that makes the faster than many other fish. They don’t have this long body like sailfish or wahoo, but compensate this with their brutal strength and the ability to contract their muscles much faster than other species. Their body shape enables them to swim as fast as 45 miles per hour.
“We now know that because the muscle tunas use for cruising is close to the backbone–not adjacent to the skin as in other fish–it is allowed to do large amounts of shortening, which means more work and more power production. That’s the essence of how this fish is different from others. Hydrodynamically, that’s a more effective way to swim. If all the middle segments throughout the body were undulating, it would create much more drag. Tunas have a more streamlined body and the motion at the tail acts almost like a propeller.” More information here >>
The Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is a pelagic fish that can grow up to 500kg (1000lb). The biggest Bluefin Tuna ever caught was 780kg (1496lb). The main tuna fishing techniques are trolling, jigging, casting or drifting; mainly off-shore.
For Ernest Hemingway the Bluefin Tuna is “The king of all fish”. They are prized among sport fishers for their fight and speed.
The Mako shark, renowned as the “cheetah of the sea,” is a marvel of the underwater world, celebrated for its extraordinary speed and agility. With streamlined bodies built for slicing through water, Makos have earned their reputation as one of the fastest fish in the ocean. What sets them apart is their striking combination of sleek design and powerful muscles. Their torpedo-like bodies, sharp, pointed snouts, and large, crescent-shaped tails allow them to effortlessly cut through the water with minimal resistance. Makos can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, making them the Usain Bolt of the ocean. This remarkable speed isn’t just for show; it’s an adaptation that helps them chase down swift prey like tuna and swordfish, securing their place as apex predators in the marine ecosystem.
The blue shark (Prionace glauca) is a migratory, live-bearing shark that feeds mainly on smaller fish and squid. This shark is a true marvel of marine engineering, known for its incredible swiftness. What sets the blue shark apart and earns it the title of one of the fastest fish in the ocean is a combination of factors. Their slender, elongated bodies and large, powerful tails are finely tuned for speed, enabling them to navigate the open ocean with unmatched agility. Blue sharks are capable of reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, allowing them to effortlessly chase down prey and cover vast distances in their quest for food. This remarkable adaptation has cemented their status as one of the ocean’s top predators, highlighting the blue shark’s vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem.
Famous for its runs, bonefish (Albula vulpes) are the fly fishing favorite. They inhabit inshore tropical waters in Florida, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Riviera Maya in Mexico, Belize, Venezuela and the Seychelles, for example. Bonefish can weigh up to 19 lb (8.6 kg) and measure up to 105 cm (41 in) long.
Most bonefish are caught sight fishing, wading or poling over the flats, which is a exciting way to catch them. Bonefishing is done using bait or lures. The flies used for bonefishing usually resemble small crabs or shrimp. Their mouth is made to suck things off the bottom, which is why the fly should be stripped slowely, letting it move over the bottom. Bonefish can also be caught on light spinning gear using rubber lures, jigs and also bait such as shrimp or pieces of fish.
After the hookup, these powerful fish make their famous runs, which is why they’re also called the torpedo of the flats.
The tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) is a silver coloured predator who loves hunting for fish and crustaceans in lagoons, rivers, ports, estuaries and other shallow waters. They inhabit the coastal waters in the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Argentina and from Senegal to Angola . Tarpon can grow up to 2,5m and weigh over 150 kg (350 lb). With a top speed of 35 mph, the tarpon is one of the top ten fastest fish in the world!
The silver king is without a doubt one of the most sought after game fish; not only because of their size, but also because of their incredible strength and speed. Tarpon are famous for making spectacular leaps into the air during the fight.
Renowned for its lightning-fast movements, the tarpon stands out as one of the ocean’s fastest fish. What sets the tarpon apart is a perfect blend of features designed for rapid swimming. Their streamlined bodies, large crescent-shaped tails, and muscular strength are built for speed, allowing them to propel themselves through the water with astonishing agility. Tarpons can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, and this remarkable velocity makes them exceptional predators and evasive prey in the vast underwater world.
Although a wide variety of fishing techniques can be used to fish for tarpon, the most famous and spectacular way to catch them is fly fishing in the flats.
Black marlin (Istiompax indica) grows to be as big or bigger than blue marlin, with males reaching lengths of 4.65 meters and weighing up to 750 kilograms (1500lb), females larger. They are part of a group of fish called billfish, which includes varieties of marlin, swordfish, and spearfish.
The black marlin is the fastest fish in the world, being able to reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour – which is about 130 km/h!! They are found close to the surface of the water. Their markings are identifiable by having a dark blue dorsal side, a silver underside, with the first dorsal fin being dark blue and the others being a brown colour with occasional flecks of blue.
Unique to other marlin species, the black marlin cannot retract its fins, although they maintain the same “sword” shaped upper jaw. Black marlin can live to be up to 25 years old. Their diet consists of squid, mackerel, cuttlefish, octopus, and smaller fish. They are rarely known to dive deeper than 600 feet.
The barracuda is a creature that commands attention with its remarkable speed. It stands out as an extremely fast fish, and this distinction is no accident. What sets the barracuda apart is a combination of physical attributes that make it an underwater sprinter. Their sleek, elongated bodies, sharp snouts, and formidable tails are designed for high-speed maneuvering. Barracudas can reach astonishing speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, allowing them to chase down prey with incredible precision.