The 10 Biggest Fish in the World

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 21, 2023
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Key Points:

  • At 21.5 tons and 41.5 feet long, the whale shark is the world’s biggest fish. This shark lives in tropical waters 70 degrees Fahrenheit and warmer and is also the world’s largest non-mammalian vertebrate.
  • Basking sharks can grow to 4.2 tons and up to 40.3 feet. They may also live as long as 50 years.
  • The infamous great white shark dives 3,300 feet underwater and gets up to 3.34 tons and 23 feet long.

You may be wondering what the largest fish in the world is and where you can find it. So what is the biggest fish in the ocean? We have considered all the types of fish falling into the Chondrichthyes and the Osteichthyes groups currently alive on earth. That’s more than 28,000 species. Based on this criteria, here are the 10 biggest fish in the world.

Infographic of the 10 Biggest Fish in the World
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and can weigh up to 21.5 tons.

10. Hoodwinker Sunfish

Mola tecta

The hoodwinker sunfish is one of the largest fish around.

©Explorasub / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

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The hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta), often called sunfish, is the world’s 10th largest fish. This Osteichthyes member has a flat elliptical shape. It can weigh up to 1.87 tons and be up to 7.9 feet long. Scientists working near New Zealand first reported it in 2014, but people have reported seeing it near Chile, South Africa, and Australia. This fish that often dives hundreds of feet to catch its meals was difficult for researchers to identify because it tends to live in the colder climates of Southern Hemisphere oceans where people usually do not go. This tailless fish has eluded researchers for years. That is one big fish in the ocean!

9. Sharptail Mola

Biggest Fish in the World: Sharptail Mola

The very large sharptail mola can dive more than 2,600 feet below the surface.

©NOAA/PIRO Observer Program, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Here is another big fish in the ocean: the very elusive sharptail mola (Masturus lanceolatus) weighs up to 2 tons, and it can be up to 9.8 feet long. This Osteichthyes looks like an elliptical sunfish in many ways, but it has a tail that has a sword-like protrusion in its center. It usually lives in tropical and temperate waters. Scientists do not know much about its behavior or the many locations where it may live. Anglers have caught this fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

8. Beluga Sturgeon

Biggest Fish in the World: Beluga Sturgeon

The beluga

sturgeon

, one of the largest bony fishes, can live up to 100 years.

©Максим Яковлєв / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

The beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), which is also called the great sturgeon, can weigh up to 2.072 tons and grow up to 24 feet long. That is a big fish in the ocean and one of the largest of these sturgeons are usually humpback. They all have long dorsal fins and shorter anal fins. This Osteichthyes lives primarily in the Caspian and the Black Sea basins. Females are often targeted by commercial anglers because of the roe, beluga caviar, it produces.

7. Southern Sunfish

Biggest Fish in the World: Southern Sunfish

According to Polynesian legend, it is very bad luck to kill one of these large southern sunfishes.

©Erik van der Goot / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

The southern sunfish (Mola alexandrini), also called Ramsay’s sunfish, southern ocean sunfish, short sunfish, or bump-head sunfish. It can weigh up to 2.3 tons and be up to 11 feet long. They use their vast fins to move through the water while lying horizontally.

While many of the fish on this list are highly elusive, it is not unusual to see these Osteichthyes lying on their sides just under the water’s surface throughout the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans. Scientists believe that this fish that dives deeply in cold water to catch its prey does this to get warmer. Meanwhile, gulls eat the parasites found on them. They may also do this to increase the amount of oxygen in their bodies.

6. Ocean Sunfish

Biggest Fish in the World: Ocean Sunfish
Mola mola

were once accepted by Japanese shoguns as payment for taxes.

©Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com

Tied for number six on our list is the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which is also called the common mola. This fish that lives in tropical and temperate waters globally has a fat head and a thin body that can extend up to 10 feet long. Females often produce 300 million eggs at one time, which is the most of any vertebrae. This docile fish is considered a delicacy in Taiwan and Japan. It often jumps out of the water, and that has caused some boating accidents because of its immense size.

5. Giant Oceanic Manta Ray

Biggest Fish in the World: Giant Oceanic Manta Ray

The giant oceanic manta ray, one of the largest animals in the ocean, weighs as much as a white rhino.

©Aaronejbull87/Shutterstock.com

Weighing in at 3 tons, the giant oceanic manta ray (Mobula birostris), also called the Atlantic manta ray, can grow up to 15 feet long. It can have a wingspan up to 30 feet wide. Most members of this species, which is the largest manta ray globally, live in tropical and subtropical waters. Researchers misclassified this species until 2017.

These smooth-skinned disc-shaped fish have been found as far north as New Jersey and as far south as South Africa. If you see one near the shore, then it may be darting from one place to another, but they often swim many miles in a straight line in the open waters.

Giant oceanic manta rays also boast record-breaking big brains. Namely, they have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any cold-blooded fish. As a result, it’s possible their intellect could be comparable to dolphins, primates, and elephants.

4. Tiger Shark

Biggest Fish in the World: Tiger Shark

The

tiger

shark, one of the biggest fish in the ocean, is known as a voracious carnivore.

©Matt9122/Shutterstock.com

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) can weigh up to 3.11 tons and grow up to 24 feet long. This shark, which is the only member of the Galeocerdo genus, is usually found around Central Pacific islands, but people can spot it anywhere tropical or temperate water exists. Tiger sharks prefer to stay by themselves. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has this shark on its Nearly Threatened list because of overfishing.

Tiger sharks are very aggressive, and they finish second only to the white shark in the number of people they have killed. While many view this fish as a lazy swimmer, it is a big fish in the ocean that can reach incredible speeds when needed to catch its prey.

3. Great White Shark

Biggest Fish in the World: Great White Shark

Great whites sharks play a special role in the ocean by keeping prey populations such as elephant seals in balance.

©Alexyz3d/Shutterstock.com

The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), also called white shark or pointer shark, can reach 3.34 tons and be up to 23 feet long. These sharks can live to be 70 years old. Females usually do not calf until they are 33 years old. These sharks can swim up to 16 miles per hour and reach depths up to 3,300 feet deep. The great white shark is aggressive, and it is known for more human attacks than any other fish. It is the only known member of the genus Carcharodon.

While this shark lives in many areas, one of the densest populated regions is around Dyer Island, South Africa. They can use the electromagnetic field to locate their prey.

Some claim that a great white shark off Hawaii’s coastline that researchers have named Deep Blue is the largest ever. Still, the International Game Fish Association recognizes a great white shark measured in Australia in 1959 as the largest. Scientists have never measured Deep Blue, but the one in Australia weighed in at 2,663 pounds.

2. Basking Shark

Biggest Fish in the World: Basking Shark

The very big and peaceful basking shark only eats zooplankton, fish eggs, barnacles and shrimp.

©Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second-largest fish in the world. It has weighed more than 4.2 tons and can be up to 40.3 feet long. It is one of three plankton-eating sharks in the world. This shark found in temperature waters globally takes its name because it appears to be basking in the water while feeding. Generally, these sharks prefer to live alone, although there are reports of them living in small groups. Sightings are common along the continental shelves, but tracking devices have allowed scientists to learn that they occasionally cross the equator. Scientists are not 100% sure, but they suggest that this shark can live to be about 50 years old.

The largest basking shark ever scientifically measured weighed 8,598 pounds and was almost 30 feet long.

1. Whale Shark

Biggest Fish in the World: Whale Shark

The whale shark is not a whale at all but is the world’s biggest fish.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

The largest fish in the world is the whale shark. This species can weigh up to 21.5 tons and grow to be 41.5 feet long. In addition to being the largest fish, it is also the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate. This shark lives in tropical waters above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It lives along coastlines and in the open water. This shark is a filter feeder. While it often spends much of its life alone, there are numerous reports of up to 400 individuals gathering near many locations, including off the Yucatan Coast.

The largest whale shark that was scientifically measured weighed 47,000 pounds. It was 41.5 feet long. It was caught near Pakistan on November 11, 1949.

These fish are the largest in the world. Yet, each of these biggest fish has its unique characteristics. The more that you learn about the biggest fish, the more you realize that the world is an amazing place.

Summary of the 10 Biggest Fish in the World

Here’s a recap of the world’s 10 largest, currently existing fish that we took a look at.

RankAnimalSize
1Whale Shark21.5 tons, 41.5 feet
2Basking Shark4.2 tons, 40.3 feet
3Great White Shark3.34 tons, 23 feet
4Tiger Shark3.11 tons, 24 feet
5Giant Oceanic Manta Ray3 tons, 15 feet
6Ocean Sunfishup to 10 feet
7Southern Sunfish2.3 tons, 11 feet
8Beluga Sturgeon2.072 tons, 24 feet
9Sharptail Mola2 tons, 9.8 feet
10Hoodwinker Sunfish1.87 tons, 7.9 feet

Biggest Fish in the World That Are Extinct

While these fish are the largest currently living on Earth, there have been even bigger fish on our planet that lived millions of years ago and are now extinct. Among these extinct species are the largest fish ever to have existed and the biggest of all shark species. Find out more about these massive sea creatures below.

3-D Rendered Illustration of Leedsichthys in Water

The mouth of

Leedsichthys problematicus

was equipped with as many as 40,000 teeth.

©Esteban De Armas/Shutterstock.com

Leedsichthys problematicus

This giant was an incredible size — believed by some to have been about 80 feet long at most and weigh more than 100 tons! Scientists have found it hard to gain a comprehensive idea of this fish’s size due to the incomplete nature of the fossils discovered. They recently reduced estimates of Leedsichthys problematicus to around 54 feet, but it is still considered the largest fish to ever exist and definitely the biggest known bony fish. However, it was not as big as the blue whale, which is the largest animal ever. It’s probable that this filter feeder was alive during the Middle Jurassic period and despite having as many as 40,000 teeth, mostly consumed plankton and algae.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon)

The megalodon is probably the most well-known prehistoric fish. Living between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago during the Early Miocene to the Pliocene, this massive predator was the largest of all shark species and capable of growing more than 50 feet long. It’s thought that a single megalodon tooth could measure more than 6 inches and its mouth was so large that a hippo could have fitted inside its 6-foot height.

Dunkleosteus terrelli

This enormous armored fish was the apex predator of the seas 400 million years ago. It is believed these placoderms reached up to 33 feet long and weighed in at 4 tons. Dunkleosteus terrelli is said to have possessed the most powerful bite of any fish at a force of 5,000 Newtons, with scientists suggesting that it would use its bladed jaws to slice through ancient sharks and other armored fish.

Xiphactinus audax

This aggressive fish is thought to have existed during the Late Cretaceous period and grow up to 20 feet long. Xiphactinus audax is believed to have moved like a torpedo through the water and would burst up out of the water to hunt and catch prehistoric birds. It had a similar build to the tarpon and probably competed with sharks for prey.

Bonnerichthys gladius

Like modern-day baleen whales, these filter-feeding fish extant during the Late Cretaceous period would feed by opening their mouths as they swam, filtering plankton and algae. They are thought to have measured more than 20 feet long and weighed several tons. Scientists believe these huge fish became extinct due to starving after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event caused algae to die.

The 10 Biggest Fish vs. the 10 Smallest Fish

Smallest fish in the world: Photocorynus spiniceps

The

Photocorynus spiniceps

is the smallest fish in the world.

©Emőke Dénes / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Now that we’ve shared the largest existing and extinct fish, let’s take a look at the 10 smallest fish on the planet:

  1. Photocorynus spiniceps
  2. Stout Infantfish
  3. Paedocypris progenetica
  4. Dwarf Pygmy Goby
  5. Leptophilypnion
  6. Midget Pygmy Goby
  7. Chili Rasbora
  8. Pygmy Hatchetfish
  9. Corfu Dwarf Goby
  10. Celestial Pearly Danio.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Onusa Putapitak/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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