The 8 Fastest Whales in the Entire Ocean

humpback whale swimming just under surface level

Written by Sharon Parry

Published: May 9, 2024

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When you think of speedy sea creatures, the sailfish or the marlin may come to mind but not a whale! These mammalian giants of the oceans are not often considered to be very fast but that is not always the case. Here, we detail eight of the fastest whales on the planet who can reach impressive speeds when they want to.

The speeds given here are those stated by wildlife and government organizations. However, opinions vary when it comes to quoting the speeds of all creatures, let alone those that live in the sea. There are lots of practical difficulties to overcome if you want to measure how fast a whale swims! Therefore, there could be individuals that swim faster or slower than the speeds quoted here.

#8 Gray Whale – 10 mph

gray whale popping its head out of the water

The bottom-feeding gray whale can reach 10 or 11 mph.

©Mogens Trolle/

These whales can grow up to 46 feet in length and weigh up to 40 tons. They feed on invertebrates which they obtain by scraping the side of their head along the ocean floor and scooping up sediment and water in their mouth. The watery mud flows out of their baleens, trapping small prey behind. Despite this rather static feeding method, gray whales can reach speeds of up to 10 or even 11 mph when they want to.

#7 Humpback Whale – 10 mph

Breaching Humpback Whale

©PaulWolf/iStock via Getty Images

Studies on the speeds of humpback whales have had varying results. One study of migrating whales found that they traveled faster (2.5 mph) when they were not singing. Another study conducted off the coast of Australia found that they can reach over 10 mph and that they swim faster when they are in shallow waters. Humpbacks whales spend almost 90 percent of their time underwater but are very acrobatic when they breach – no mean feat considering they weight 40 tons!

#6 Minke Whale-12mph

Minke whale calf jumping out of the water with Gold Coast buildings in the background

Breaching and speedy swimming are two minke whale skills!

©DAE Photo/

Minke whales have a sharply pointed snout and a slender streamlined body so they are built for speed. Some can reach over 12 mph. They have broad tail flukes which help them pick up speed and propel themselves out of the water in spectacular breaches. Re-entry can be head-first of in an impressive body slam. This species of whale is widely distributed, they are found from the tropics to the poles.

#5 Sperm Whale – 20mph

Sperm Whale

Sperm whales can reach speeds of over 20 mph.


Accurate speed data from sperm whales was collected whilst they were diving in a study published in 2007. The researchers recorded a maximum diving speed of at least 9.8 m/s which equates to over 20 mph! That’s pretty impressive considering that sperm whales can hold their breath for 90 minutes at a time.

#4 Blue Whale – 20 mph

blue whale

Considering they are so large, blue whales are surprisingly speedy!

©Andrew Sutton/

Blue whales are the largest animals on our planet so you may be surprised to learn that they are also fast! They can weigh up to 330,000 pounds and span 110 feet. These whales are found in oceans all over the world except for the Arctic. They have a long, slender body and usually cruise around looking for krill (tiny shrimp-like animals), at speeds of around 5 mph. However, when they want to, they can go much faster and reach 20 mph in short bursts

#3 Pilot Whale – 20 mph

Fastest Sea Animal: Pilot Whale

Pilot whales ‘sprint’ under water to find prey.

©Andrea Izzotti/

Nicknamed the ‘cheetahs of the deep sea’ pilot whales can reach speeds of up to 20mph. However, this is only for short periods – just like their namesake, they need to rest after a short burst of speed. They conduct short and frantic underwater sprints to look for and chase prey (often squid). This is a high risk strategy because they have to get back up to the surface before their oxygen reserves run out. Around 40 percent of the time they have to give up and return to the air without bagging a meal.

#2 Fin Whale – 23mph

aerial of fin whale

Fin whales (

Balaenoptera physalus

) are big and fast!

©Leonardo Gonzalez/

These guys are not called the ‘greyhounds of the seas’ for nothing! They are large – 85 feet long and weigh up to 160,000 pounds. But that does not stop them from being speedy. They can reach up to 23 mph. You will find them all over the planet except for the parts of the Arctic that remain covered with ice throughout most of the year. Their speed is generated by their powerful caudal peduncle – the part of their body that supports the caudal or tail fin. The whale accelerates forward by moving their tail up and down.

#1 Sei Whale – 34mph

A Sei Whale Surfaces for a Breath

Sei whales are long, sleek and fast.

©Rich Higgins/

This magnificent whale is found in subtropical, temperate, and subpolar waters. They can reach speeds of over 34 miles per hour thanks to their long, sleek body and powerful tail. These large animals need around 2,000 pounds of food per day. They mainly feed on plankton, schools of small fish, and squid. Ideally, they have a lifespan of at least 70 years but they are under threat from vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing equipment and noise pollution.

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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