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.
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.
All fish (as well as sharks) share these basic traits in common. But there are certain species that stand above the rest in terms of their relentless speed. This list documents the top 10 fastest fish known in the world. Keep in mind that some measurements may be necessarily imprecise. Fish speeds are hard to measure in the water, and many figures may be based on single non-replicable reports. This article takes into account some of that uncertainty. Here are the 10 fastest fish in the ocean.
#10 Fastest Fish: Sailfish
Unmistakable due to the gigantic sail on its back, this fish is considered to be the fastest fish in the world. Some reports indicate it is capable of speeds nearly 70 miles per hour while leaping out of the water, although the actual swimming speed is probably much slower. As a member of the marlin family, there are two recognized species in the sailfish genus: the Atlantic sailfish and the Indo-Pacific sailfish.
There are many interesting aspects to the fish’s physiology. First off, These are large fish, measuring up to 10-feet long and 200 pounds. Second, and despite popular misconception, their sword-like bills are not used to spear prey. Instead, the bills allow them to stun larger prey such as crustaceans and squids, often when they’re working together in groups of two or more. But the huge dorsal fin, which reaches at least a foot high, is the most conspicuous feature of this fish. Like an actual boat sail, it can be folded against the body when it isn’t needed. But when the fish attacks its prey, the sail will suddenly be raised, as if on high alert, so it can maneuver better through the water.
#9 Fastest Fish: Black Marlin
A close relative of the sailfish, the black marlin is one of the largest bony fish in the world, measuring up to 15 feet long and around 1,600 pounds, with a sword-like bill. There is some debate about the marlin’s true speed. Based on a single report of a lone fishing trip, a marlin was recorded stripping the line off a reel at around 120 feet per second, or the equivalent of 82 miles per hour, but this may be an unreliable measurement. Based on more realistic estimates, the marlin probably travels at speeds of around 20 to 30 miles per hour with the ability to move faster in short bursts. While the marlin does have an elongated fin on the back, it’s nowhere near as massive as the sailfish.
Read here to learn more about the black marlin.
#8 Fastest Fish: Swordfish
This marine fish, found predominantly in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean, is the only living member of the family Xiphiidae. More distantly, however, it’s actually a part of the same order as the sailfish and marlin, which means there are some similarities between them. For instance, as the name suggests, the swordfish has a massive sword-like bill that’s similar to the black marlin and sailfish. They can also grow up to 15 feet long and weigh around 1,400 pounds.
Reports suggest that the swordfish might be able to achieve a top in excess of 60 miles per hour for short periods of time, but it’s not clear how long it can maintain this speed.
#7 Fastest Fish: Wahoo
The wahoo is a slender tropical fish, measuring up to 8 feet long and nearly 200 pounds, with a brilliant blue sheen and a sail-like dorsal fin. It is highly valued by sports fishermen as a top-quality game fish with excellent strength and speed. They are also prized in culinary circles for their delicate taste. Some reports indicate the wahoo can reach top speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour in short bursts, but its normal cruising speed is probably much lower overall.
#6 Fastest Fish: Tuna
The common tuna is beloved as a very popular and tasty dish all over the world, but it’s also remarkable enough in its own right to make a list of the fastest fish. Although they sometimes appear to cruise along slowly, the tuna is an active and agile predator. The sleek and streamlined body enables it to reach high speeds in the pursuit of its prey. The fastest recorded species is the yellowfin tuna at around 46 miles per hour. The Atlantic bluefin tuna, which weighs up to 1,500 pounds and reaches almost 15 feet, can also leap out of the water at speeds of around 43 miles per hour.
Read here to learn more about the tuna.
#5 Fastest Fish: Bonito
A bonito is a group of eight distinctive fish species, including the Atlantic bonito and Pacific bonito, in the mackerel/tuna family. One of their defining traits is the presence of striped patterns on their sides. Reaching a maximum length of about 40 inches, this very agile fish can leap from the water at speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour.
Read here to learn more about the bonito.
#4 Fastest Fish: Mako Shark
The mako is a genus of big, fearsome sharks, measuring an average of 10 feet and a maximum possible length of around 15 feet. This genus is actually composed of two distinct species: the very common shortfin mako shark and the rarer and more elusive longfin mako. By most accounts, the mako is considered to be the fastest type of shark in the world, reaching top speeds of around 40 miles per hour. The secret to the mako’s remarkable speed is the presence of flexible, teeth-like structures called denticles on the sides of the body.
Normally, when water passes over the widest part of the shark’s body, especially right near the gills, it suddenly experiences something called flow separation, in which the water slows down and drops in pressure, causing small eddies and vortices to form. The result of all this water flow is additional drag and turbulence against the body. In order to prevent this from occurring, the denticles will automatically flex up, as if they’re shape-shifting in real-time, so the shark can swim faster and more quietly through the water. This phenomenon is so useful that it’s actually been copied in swimsuits to prevent drag from occurring.
#3 Fastest Fish: Blue Shark
Moving stealthily through deep waters, the blue shark is one of the top predators of the world’s ocean. Measuring up to 12 feet long and sometimes weighing more than 400 pounds, they have a long, sleek body and elongated snout with a recognizable bright blue coloration on their upper half. Like the mako shark, they have denticles covering the sides of their body to significantly reduce drag and turbulence in the water. Reports suggest its normal speed is somewhere in the range of 20 to 40 miles per hour.
Read here to learn more about the blue shark.
#2 Fastest Fish: Bonefish
This medium-sized fish, characterized by the shiny silver body and black stripes, operates on a predictable schedule; gathering in small schools of several fish, they move from tropical inshore waters to shallow mud or sand flats to feed. It is estimated that this species can achieve speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
#1 Fastest Fish: Four-winged Flying Fish
The flying fish is perhaps one of a kind in the entire animal kingdom. It has the remarkable ability to build up speed, leap out of the water, and glide through the air, sometimes at distances of more than a thousand feet with the right tailwind, to escape its predators. The secret to its success is the wing-like pectoral fins projecting from the side of the body, in addition to all of the skeletal and muscular modifications to accommodate them. But whereas the typical flying fish has only two wing-shaped fins, the four-wing flying fish, as the name suggests, has additional modified pelvic fins for a total of four “wings.” The top speed is thought to be around 35 miles per hour. Despite some misconception, however, they do not flap their wings but instead, glide through the air.
Read here to learn more about the flying fish.
Next up: Top 10 Heaviest Animals in the World