10 Fastest Animals in the Ocean
10. The Orca or Killer Whale
Orcas are not related to whales at all, other than being ocean-dwelling mammals. Rather, they are close kin to dolphins. While it was believed that they were a single species, recent research indicates that they may, in fact, be comprised of several different species of Orca. You can find them in every ocean in the world, though they tend to favor the colder waters around Antarctica and the North Atlantic or Pacific. The only predator they possess is humankind. While there’s a deadly standoff between the two species, Orcas proliferate in the wild, and have an incredible life span. The males usually live as long as sixty or seventy years, while the females—who are excluded from the sometimes-violent competition for mates—may live a hundred years or more in the wild.
They’ve been observed reaching speeds of around 30 miles per hour, although some Orcas may utilize much greater bursts of speed, based upon their favored prey. Resident pods in the Pacific Northwest have shown a decided preference for salmonids—specifically, Chinook salmon. This presents a conflict with the goals of companies that rely on high yields of salmon for profit. Several communities of killer whale seem to favor beach and ice floe ambush approaches, snatching seals and walruses or even sea birds from their resting places. Others, located in the Southern Hemisphere, take up the challenge of hunting sharks in the open sea, as well as feeding on species of rays and other fish abundant in the cold southern waters.
9. The Bonito
While this species of small mackerel-like fish (Sarda sarda) has been observed leaping at speeds of 40 miles per hour, the true wonder is that it is capable of swimming for long periods of time at 30 miles per hour. That makes it truly unique, given that the migration speeds of many fish of similar size are slower. It regulates the activation of fast-twitch muscles—used for bursts of speed—and slow twitch muscles—needed for long-term endurance—better than many vertebrate species.
The Atlantic Bonito spawns in tropical waters around the equator. While this may surprise some, who know it to be a fish harvested from the waters of the Black and Mediterranean Seas and the northern Atlantic waters off the east coast of North America or Europe, there’s a logic to this pattern. When Bonitos are first spawned, they are tiny—measuring only 1/8 of an inch. They require enormous amounts of food to put on the mass essential to success in the wild Atlantic waters. Those resources are abundant in the perpetually warm waters around the equator.
There are several varieties of Bonito found throughout both hemispheres, the Pacific Bonito—known as Skipjack Tuna—that schools primarily along the coasts of South America being the second most popular of these fish. However,separate species have been classified in the western Pacific and in the waters around New Zealand. Because all species of Bonito are fully mature at four years of age, they are a popular choice for fisheries of every type and level of sophistication—from traditional weirs and line fishing to highly industrialized net dragging operations.
8. The Flying Fish
This fish earned its name by utilizing evasion as a way to escape its predators. It bodily leaps from the ocean, reaching a speed of about 35 miles per hour and a recorded gliding time of up to thirty seconds. This can take them as far as 200 meters from their point of exit from the water, which may be far enough to escape pursuit or confuse predators. Fishermen favor these types of fish, but due to their sheer numbers in the wild, none of the 40 different species of flying fish are listed as endangered. While they can be found foraging seasonally along the outskirts of warm water reef complexes, flying fish are primarily pelagic, and favor tropical or subtropical open waters around the equator.
Subsisting mainly on a diet of plankton and small marine life, flying fish are schooling fish that hunt primarily at night. While some sources may find this counter-intuitive, given the ease with which the fish are drawn to light sources, this actually makes perfect sense. Many of the plankton and marine resources the fish favor are slightly luminescent, especially by moonlight, making them easily seen in the darkness. This also provides cover, given the coloration of the fish—blue or grey on top, silvery white on the bottom—so that they are not easily seen from above or below as they feed on the clouds of marine flora.
Flying fish generally mate during the autumn or spring, when currents are at their weakest. Females will deposit their eggs on the surface, attached to flotsam, and males will fertilize the eggs. Schools at this time can number in the millions, and constitute a major resource for species that feed on the fish. Because they only tend to live about five years in the wild, their flesh is prized for its purity—free of the heavy metals often found in longer-lived species.
7. The Yellowfin Tuna
This tuna is a member of the same family as the Bonito and schools in waters of both northern and southern hemispheres. Reaching an average weight of nearly 400 pounds in less than eight years, these schooling fish are popular with fishermen. Pelagic in preference, the Yellowfin is designed for long distance migrations and sustained speed. It’s been clocked at speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour for prolonged periods of time. A biological design feature makes this possible. By resting their pectoral fins in special grooves along the sides of their bodies, they present a streamlined profile to the current. This helps to reduce drag, so that their torpedo-shaped bodies cut through the water with greater ease and less loss of energy.
While they seem to favor squid and crustaceans, Yellowfins are not picky eaters. They will often forage on whatever is readily available in their vicinity. Because they put on weight quickly and grow to a respectable size of about 200 kilograms, they’re a favorite target for fishing companies. They tend to school strongly and can be found in the open tropical or subtropical waters of oceans, though they avoid the more closed environments of the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
They have been placed on a list of possibly endangered species—meaning that if culling continues apace, their numbers will soon be depleted beyond their ability to sufficiently spawn replacements. In the 1950s, purse seines were used to harvest massive numbers of Yellowfin, by exploiting the tendency for dolphins to travel with the schools. The careless tactics of fishers led to hundreds of thousands of dolphins drowning each year, due to net entanglement. Hence, both legislation prohibiting the death of dolphins and the development of dolphin safe nets was put forward several decades later.
6. The Pilot Whale
These ocean mammals are also closely related to dolphins, much like the killer whale. They exhibit advanced intelligence and social skills, making them the unfortunate targets of human whaling endeavors. Although they’re known to feast upon cuttlefish, octopus, and small fish, their favorite prey is squid. They also have fewer teeth than other members of the dolphin family—40 to 48 as opposed to the usual 120. Scientists believe that this may be an adaptation to their feeding niche—because they subsist almost exclusively on squid and related animals.
Their highly social nature is evident in the size of their living groups—up to 90 related individuals who work together to subsist—which may be found in every ocean of the world. Working together, they track and corral their prey before feasting. Because they must often travel long distances, and require bursts of speed to close in on prey species, they have been observed diving to incredible depths at speeds that seem counterintuitive. This is significant when you consider that, although both air and water are technically classified as liquid mediums, water is 750 times denser than air.
While they have been clocked at 47 miles per hour when leaping, what’s truly astonishing is that they perform bursts of speed when they close in on their prey at great depths—read that as up to 3200 feet beneath the surface. Researchers from La Laguna University in Tenerife tagged 23 short finned Pilot Whales with suction cup monitors to discover their behavior so far below the surface, and found to their amazement that the whales behaved more like cheetahs. The researchers were able to record average speeds of 19.2 feet per second, with amazing an 28.8 feet per second speed achieved just before the whales reached the deepest parts of their dives. So while these incredible speeds are not sustained, they are, nonetheless, amazing.