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North Carolina Aquariums
Toward a greater understanding of North Carolina's aquatic resources . . .
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What is the Fastest Fish?


The fastest fish on record is the sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) which has been clocked at speeds between 60 and 68.1 miles per hour for 100 yards. This giant fish belongs to the Family Istiophoridae, which also includes marlins and spearfishes. They are collectively known as billfish because their upper jaws are elongated and rounded. Interestingly, the swordfish (Xiphias gladius), although similar in appearance, is a member of an entirely different family -- the Family Xiphiidae. Among the subtle differences between the two families is the fact that the swordfish’s upper jaw is flattened and smooth.


Like most billfish, the Istiophorus platypterus is dark blue the on upper half of its body and silvery white on its underside. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its large, bright blue dorsal fin. The fin is elongated and quite high, running most of the length of the sailfish’s back. That is in contrast to the marlin, whose dorsal fin reaches it highest point closer to the fish’s head, above its gill region. The sailfish’s dorsal fin is spotted.

The sailfish feeds primarily on fishes and squids, preferring tunas, mackerels, jacks and other fish that swim near the ocean’s surface. Divers have reported seeing several sailfish work together to corral their prey, using their high fins to create a wall that keeps the smaller fish from escaping. One by one, each sailfish darts in to dine, returning to the circle where it waits for its next chance to feed.


Sailfish found in the Atlantic Ocean grow to approximately eight feet in length and can weigh as much as 110 pounds. They can be found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters, from the Gulf of Maine to Brazil, including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Adult sailfishes prefer to stay in waters where the depth is between 120 to 300 feet and the temperature ranges from 77 to 82 degrees.