The Fastest Fish in the World

It's claimed that some species top 80 mph

For the average landlubber, fish often seem strange. It isn't easy to measure the speed of fish, whether they're swimming wild in the open sea, tugging on your line, or splashing in a tank. Still, wildlife experts have enough information to conclude that these are likely the world's fastest fish species, all of which are highly prized by commercial and recreational fishermen.

Sailfish (68 mph)

An Atlantic sailfish mugs for the camera in Mexico

Jens Kuhfs / Getty Images

Many sources list sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) as the fastest fish in the ocean. They are definitely fast leapers, and likely one of the fastest fish at swimming short distances. Some speed trials describe a sailfish clocking in at 68 mph while leaping.

Sailfish can grow to 10 feet long and, though slim, weigh up to 128 pounds. Their most noticeable characteristics are their large first dorsal fin, which resembles a sail, and their upper jaw, which is long and spear-like. Sailfish have blue-gray backs and white undersides.

Sailfish are found in temperate and tropical waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They feed primarily on small bony fish and cephalopods, which include squids, cuttlefish, and octopuses.

Swordfish (60-80 mph)

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) in the open ocean surrounding Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Jeff Rotman / Getty Images

The swordfish (​Xiphias gladius) is a popular seafood and another fast-leaping species, although its speed is not well known. One calculation determined that they could swim at 60 mph, while another finding claimed speeds of over 80 mph.

The swordfish has a long, sword-like bill, which it uses to spear or slash its prey. It has a tall dorsal fin and a brownish-black back with a light underside.

Swordfish are found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and in the Mediterranean Sea. The film "The Perfect Storm," based on the book by Sebastian Junger, is about a Gloucester, Massachusetts, swordfishing boat lost at sea during a 1991 storm.

Marlin (80 mph)

Black Marlin (Makaira indica) struggles against a fishing line
Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

Marlin species include the Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), black marlin (Makaira indica), Indo-Pacific blue marlin (Makaira mazara), striped marlin (Tetrapturus audax), and white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus). They are easily recognized by their long, spear-like upper jaw and tall first dorsal fin.

The BBC has claimed that the black marlin is the fastest fish on the planet, based on a marlin caught on a fishing line. It was said to have stripped line off a reel at 120 feet per second, meaning the fish was swimming nearly 82 mph. Another source said marlins could leap at 50 mph.

Wahoo (48 mph)

The long body of a Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) captured on camera in Micronesia
Reinhard Dirscherl / Getty Images

The wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) lives in tropical and subtropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. These slender fish have bluish-green backs with light sides and bellies. They can grow to 8 feet long, but more commonly reach 5 feet. Scientists studying the wahoo's speed reported that it reached 48 mph in bursts.

Tuna (46 mph)

Yellowfin tuna serving side eye in dark blue
Jeff Rotman / Getty Images

Although yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) appear to cruise slowly through the ocean, they can have bursts of speed over 40 mph. The wahoo study cited above also measured a yellowfin tuna's burst of speed at just over 46 mph. Another site lists the maximum leaping speed of an Atlantic bluefin tuna at 43.4 mph.

Bluefin tuna can reach lengths over 10 feet. Atlantic bluefin are found in the western Atlantic from Newfoundland, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, in the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to the Canary Islands, and throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Southern bluefin are seen throughout the southern hemisphere in latitudes between 30 and 50 degrees.

Yellowfin tuna, found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, can top 7 feet in length. Albacore tuna, capable of speeds up to 40 mph, are found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. They are commonly sold as canned tuna. Their maximum size is 4 feet and 88 pounds.

Bonito (40 mph)

An Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda) specimen on ice

Ian O'Leary / Getty Images

Bonito, a common name for fish in the genus Sarda, comprises species in the mackerel family, including the Atlantic bonito, striped bonito, and Pacific bonito. Bonito are said to be capable of leaping speeds of 40 mph. Bonito, a streamlined fish with striped sides, grow to 30 to 40 inches.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "The Fastest Fish in the World." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, August 28). The Fastest Fish in the World. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "The Fastest Fish in the World." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).