The Usain Bolts Of The Ocean

Ten of the Fastest Sea Creatures in The World 

Speed and stealth are important to the whole animal kingdom and many creatures rely on them to survive. Speed is one of the most thrilling features of many of the oceans’ inhabitants, not only the miles per hour they achieve, but also that they can maintain their speed for long periods of time. Speed requires an enormous expenditure of energy, which in its turn needs to be replenished by calorific intake. The fastest of these creatures are able to draw their needs from the fantastic ecosystem which exists under the waves. How do they do it? Here are some of the fastest sea creatures on the planet.

10. Orcas or Killer Whales – 48 km per hour

By Robert Pittman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Orcas are not actually whales at all but are more closely related to dolphins. There are several different species in all the oceans in the world, although they prefer the cooler waters around the Antarctic, North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Humans are their only predator and they have an incredible lifespan, males often living up to 60 or 70 years old, while females may live to be over 100. They have been observed reaching speeds of around 48 kilometres per hour, but some species can utilize much greater bursts of speed for short distances when chasing their prey. These include a wide range of creatures from sea birds and salmon through to sharks, seals and walruses. Their slender shape and smooth contours, causing less drag, help them to reach their high speeds, as well as the large muscles in their tails. They also ride ocean swells or a boat’s bow wave or stern wake, which conserves energy and helps them swim even faster.

9. Flying Fish – 56 km per hour

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So called because of the way it escapes its predators, the Flying Fish leaps from the ocean using its long wing-like fins, reaching speeds of 56 kilometres per hour with a recorded gliding time of up to 30 seconds. This can take it as far as 200 metres from its starting point. Its rigid and sturdy vertebral column gives it aerodynamic advantages, increasing speed and aim when gliding. At the end of the glide it folds its pectoral fin to re-enter the sea or drops its tail to push against the water to lift itself for another glide. Its time in the air is aided by the curved profile of the “wing”, rather like a bird’s and the fact that it uses the updrafts created by a combination of air and ocean currents. It lives on a diet of plankton and small marine life and hunts in schools, primarily at night. During autumn and spring, when the fish mate and the females deposit their eggs on the surface to be fertilised, groups of Flying Fish can number in the millions.

8. Bone Fish – 64 km per hour

By Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Named because of its large number of fine bones, the Bone Fish is found in most tropical and subtropical shallow waters and is one of the fastest shallow bottom fish in the world. It is a favourite meal of both sharks and barracudas, needing a fast turn of speed to avoid capture. It can maintain a speed of 64 kilometres per hour for long periods of time but it also protects itself by swimming in small schools of about 100, each fish maintaining a constant distance from its neighbour.

7. Bonito – 64 km per hour

This small mackerel-like fish is a real speed merchant, leaping at speeds of 64 kilometres per hour and capable of swimming for long periods at a time at 48 kilometres per hour. The fish manages its speed by the use of fast-twitch muscles (used for bursts of speed) and slow-twitch muscles (needed for long term endurance). There are several varieties of Bonito found throughout both hemispheres.

6. Barracuda – 75 km per hour


Also referred to as a King Fish or a Wahoo, this creature is a real nasty character and one of the most proficient predators in the tropical and subtropical waters of the world. It can reach speeds of 75 kilometres per hour and its style of swimming is characterised by unpredictable directional darting, terrorising its prey. It achieves its speed as a result of its long, compressed body covered with small, smooth scales. It can grow up to 1.8m in length and 30cm in width. It doesn’t make a habit of attacking humans but can be very aggressive when threatened. It has prominent, sharp-edged, fang like teeth, like the piranha.

5. Pilot Whale – 75 km per hour

By Barney Moss (Watching Whales 4) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

These ocean mammals are closely related to dolphins and are much like killer whales. They live in groups of up to 90, working together to track and corral their prey, which includes cuttlefish, octopus, small fish and squid. They often travel long distances and have been clocked at 75 kilometres per hour when leaping, but also higher bursts of speed when they close on their prey, sometimes at great depth, such as 3200 feet beneath the surface. Researches have recorded average speeds of 19.2 feet per second, with a phenomenal 28.8 feet per second achieved just before the deepest part of their dive.

4. Yellowfin Tuna – 80 km per hour

By OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This tuna is a member of the same family as the Bonito. It is designed for long distance migrations and high speed and has been clocked at nearly 80 kilometres per hour for prolonged periods of time. Its specific design helps it achieve its high speeds. It can rest its pectoral fins in special grooves along the sides of its body, presenting a streamlined profile which reduces drag. It is thus able to shoot through the water, torpedo-like, with great ease and less loss of energy. It is not a picky eater, but will forage for whatever is readily available. It puts on weight quickly and grows to a respectable size of about 200 kilograms, making it a prime target for fishing companies. Hence the reason it has been placed on the list of possibly endangered species.

3. Mako Shark – 96 km per hour

By Mark Conlin, SWFSC Large Pelagics Program [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mako Shark is a smaller cousin of the Great White and is found in waters all over the world, but is well adapted to surviving in cold water. It prefers deep ocean waters and travels with a regular cruising speed of 56 kilometres per hour, achieving over 96 km per hour on demand if threatened, helped by its compact, streamlined body. It can cover huge distances of over 1000 miles in a month.

2. Swordfish – 96 km per hour

The swordfish is both fast and dangerous with its sword like bill used to thrash its prey. It can swim steadily at speeds of 96 kilometres per hour and leap in excess of 80 kilometres per hour. It will also dive up to 2,000ft in pursuit of its prey. It can be found in temperate waters around the world, but over harvesting has resulted in it being put on the list of endangered species. Its pointed bill makes it one of the most aerodynamic fish in the ocean, but scientists have discovered another reason for its high speed. The fish has an oily gland at the hilt of its bill which secretes a slippery syrup of fatty acids. This creates a thin hydroscopic sheen over the swordfish’s head which repels water and reduces drag. So instead of sticking to the fish’s scales, the water molecules move away from the fish, allowing it to race through the water.

1. Sailfish – 110 km per hour

By Benjamint444 (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are two species of Sailfish, living in the warmer areas of the oceans. They are pelagic fish – living in open water, not near the bottom, nor within the tidal zone of a shoreline. Individuals have been clocked at speeds of up to 110 kilometres per hour, which is the highest measured speed of any fish. They are normally blue to grey in colour but can exhibit vibrant purples and silvers with iridescent dots. They can change their colours almost instantly by using their nervous system, which helps to confuse their prey. They have a sail-shaped, erectile dorsal fin, known as a sail, which often stretches the entire length of its back.  They also have an elongated bill resembling that of a swordfish and other marlins. They grow to 1.2 to 1.5 metres in a single year but rarely exceed 3 metres. They feed on the surface or in mid-depths, on smaller fish and squid. Their sail is normally kept folded down and to one side when swimming, helping to achieve a very aerodynamic shape, but it is raised when the fish is threatened, making it look larger, or when swimming on the surface. They are also known for their incredible jumps.

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