The fastest shark in the ocean has a maximum speed of 80 kph. The slowest moves at less than one kph, frozen into sluggishness by the frigid waters it frequents.
The consensus is that the shortfin mako is the fastest shark in the world, but there’s little evidence to back up such claims. There has never been an official shark race, so statistics are limited and not 100% reliable.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the facts and explore how the anatomy of the top ten fastest sharks has adapted and evolved to give them that extra burst of speed.
What is the Fastest Shark?
What’s the fastest shark in the sea? According to most reports, the shortfin mako is the fastest shark in the ocean. It regularly swims fastest than 50 kph and achieves occasional bursts of speed when it exceeds 70kph!
The only other sharks that come close to these speeds are the longfin mako and the salmon shark. Although the salmon shark is given little media coverage, where it is mentioned, the evidence suggests that this species can achieve even faster speeds.
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Two different sources state that this shark species has been recorded swimming as fast as 50 miles per hour – the equivalent of 80.5 kph!
The salmon shark is fast for short bursts, but it can’t compete with shortfin makos regarding endurance or maintaining a fast average speed for a long period.
What makes the Shortfin Mako the Fastest Shark?
The shortfin mako shark has a streamlined, torpedo-like body that minimizes drag in the water, enabling them to travel faster.
They are also endothermic, which means they can keep their muscles warmer than the water around them. This enables them to swim 2.5 times faster than their exothermic cousins.
Shortfin makos also have muscular bodies covered with tooth-like scales known as denticles. This particular species has very flexible denticles, which help reduce drag and improve swimming efficiency.
The shortfin mako is an obligate ram breather, which means it could drown without constant water flow through its gills.
On the plus side, this “energy-efficient way of breathing” means that mako sharks can maintain high speeds for long migrations, traveling up to 60 km per day for months at a time.
What’s the Fastest Speed Recorded for a Mako Shark?
The Shortfin mako shark holds the Guinness World Record for being the fastest shark. According to the record set in November 2011, the mako’s top speeds hover around 56 kph (34.8 mph).
Reports that claim shortfin mako sharks can “clock in at speeds of 60 mph (96 kph)” are purely anecdotal and not necessarily accurate.
Many of these records have been acquired by measuring the shark’s speed against that of a boat or ship, but, as researchers have discovered, the breaking wave in front of the craft pushes the shark forward, exaggerating its natural speed.
What is the Second Fastest Shark?
The salmon shark can achieve swimming speeds similar to those of the shortfin mako.
Some reports suggest these fast swimmers can exceed 80kph, although there is little evidence to support these claims.
Salmon sharks are found in the subarctic and temperate waters of the North Pacific Ocean. Despite living in cold water, they maintain a higher body temperature than any other sharks in the world.
Like their cousins, the great white and the mako, this endothermic heating makes them capable of achieving reach faster speeds than other cold-blooded species.
Feeding primarily on Pacific salmon, it doesn’t need these speeds for hunting, as the salmon only achieve an average cruising speed of around 12 kph. By comparison, shortfin mako sharks prey on some of the fastest fishes in the ocean, including tuna, which can achieve speeds of over 60kph.
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What are the Top 10 Fastest Sharks?
#1 Shortfin Mako Shark – 74 kph
With their endothermic heating system, shortfin mako sharks are warmer than the surrounding water and therefore capable of greater speeds and agility.
As a result, they can maintain fast speeds for longer than other species and use this ability when migrating and hunting.
#2 Salmon Shark – 80 kph
The salmon shark is tough to beat when it comes to short bursts of speed. It can accelerate quickly and is surprisingly agile, given its size.
Even the larger females can swim faster than other species, slicing through the Northern Pacific ocean like a cheetah through the African bush.
#3 Longfin Mako Shark – 56 kph
Like its cousin, the shortfin mako shark, the longfin variety is endothermic, active, and known for its species athleticism.
Second, only to the great white shark, it’s one of the largest species in the Lamnidae family, reaching lengths of up to 14 feet.
Third, thanks to their size, adult longfin makos have few natural predators besides killer whales and humans.
Like other types of mako shark, the longfin is endothermic and fast. Although little is known about this elusive species, researchers assume it to be highly active, feeding on fish and cephalopods throughout its deep-water habitat.
It is difficult to distinguish from the shortfin mako, as its name suggests, this variety has much longer pectoral fins, which seem, rather counterintuitively, to make it slower than the shortfin.
Despite its size and power, the longfin mako isn’t a particularly aggressive or dangerous shark and, as far as we know, hasn’t been responsible for any attacks on humans.
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However, while it’s undeniable fast, it’s not fast enough to escape the risk of extinction, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the species vulnerable “due to its rarity, low reproductive rate, and continuing bycatch mortality.”
#4 Grey Reef Shark – 50 kph
Aggressive and territorial, the grey reef shark swims relatively slowly most of the time, conserving its energy until the time’s right.
Using its excellent smell to detect prey, it accelerates to around 50kph as it goes in for the kill. It excels at capturing fish in the open waters when preying on bony fish and cephalopods.
The grey reef shark can swim up to 50 kph and may use that turn of speed to elude predators as well as capture prey.
One of the most common types of shark, the grey reef, is preyed upon by tiger, great white, and hammerhead sharks, so it needs a decent turn of speed if it’s to have any chance of survival.
#5 Thresher Shark – 48.2 kph
Fast and aggressive, the Thresher shark has a unique hunting technique that requires a certain level of species athleticism and speed.
With a caudal fin or tail, almost as long as its body, the Thresher shark can propel itself at speeds of up to 48.2 kph. That isn’t the impressive bit, though.
Once the Thresher bursts into a school of fish, it uses its large pectoral fins to screech to a halt. Lowering its snout, it then pitches its whole body forward, flinging its tail over the top of its head at speeds up to 80mph.
As its weaponized tail hits its target, it decimates its prey. Simon Oliver, the founder of the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project at the University of Liverpool, has witnessed the event first-hand and what he saw was, he says, “fast, aggressive and violent.”
The Thresher’s tail moves so fast that it causes bubbles to form in the water in front of it. As these bubbles burst, they release a huge amount of energy in a process known as cavitation. Oliver believes this creates “a strong shockwave to debilitate small prey.”
Few creatures hunt with their tails, but the Thresher shark has perfected the technique and is successful on a third of their strikes, each of which kills several fish, usually sardines, in a single blow.
#6 Bull Shark – 40.1 kph
Bull sharks look like their namesakes and, with their stocky bodies and wide snouts, don’t initially appear designed for speed.
They aren’t as streamlined as the fastest sharks, nor are they endothermic. However, as they frequent warmer, shallower waters, their body temperature doesn’t drop as low as deep-ocean sharks, enabling them to move more quickly.
Most sharks can only swim fast in salty water, but bull sharks can reach speeds of 40.1kph in freshwater river systems and the ocean. This is because this is one of the few shark species to be euryhaline, which means it can adapt to different salinities.
Territorial and aggressive, this extremely agile shark attacks its prey using a circular pattern of movement. Not only is this shark fast, but it’s also ferocious.
Pound-for-pound bull sharks have the most powerful bite of any shark species. A study published in the Zoology journal reports that an 8-foot-long great white has a bite force of 360 lb, while a 9-foot-long bull shark’s is nearly 480.
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With their combination of speed and strength, many consider bull sharks to be the world’s most dangerous, despite them being much smaller than the formidable great white.
This is primarily because humans frequent the same regions as the bull shark, which enjoys warm, shallow coastal waters as much as we do.
#7 Great White Shark – 40kph
When we asked, “How fast can a great white swim?” we concluded that its top speed is around 40kph.
However, others claim that this impressive predator can swim even faster than that, topping out at between 50 and 56 kph.
As few of us want to be around when a great white shark attacks, the confusion is inevitable. However, we can be sure that speed plays a critical role in how the great white hunts.
Similar to the cheetah’s approach, great whites “slow down when hanging around seal colonies and accelerate when they find a seal.” This enables them to conserve energy, ready for the kill.
When they do strike, however, the great white powers to the surface of the ocean in a vertical rush, often propelling itself and its prey “out of the water in an awesome display of power and acrobatic prowess.”
Like the shortfin mako and salmon sharks, the great white is endothermic, using a network of blood vessels called rete mirabile to maintain its body temperature.
As Yuuki Watanabe of the National Institute of Polar Research in Japan points out, “Due to warmed muscles, they “can sustain high swim speed and migrate great distances.”
#8 Blue Shark – 39.4 kph
With its long, pointed snout and “scimitar-shaped pectoral fins,” you’d expect the blue shark to be in the top ten fastest shark species.
Indeed, you may be rather surprised to discover that it lags so far behind the fastest sharks in the world, with a top speed of just under 40 kph.
While its sleek build makes it a graceful swimmer, it doesn’t have the internal heating system of the world’s fastest sharks.
Being pelagic sharks, blue sharks spend most of their time in open water and often swim slowly at the ocean’s surface, with the tips of their dorsal fins just visible over the waves.
Blue sharks feed throughout the day, targeting bony fish like sardines and herring. However, they are more active at night when they often form hunting parties at night, attacking their prey like a pack of hungry dogs.
#9 Tiger Shark – 32kph
The aggressive tiger shark attacks indiscriminately and at high speed. They will feed on almost anything, devouring whatever comes their way.
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As a result, tiger sharks are responsible for more attacks on humans than any other species besides the great white. Unfortunately, they have also been known to consume bottles of wine, number plates, tires, and petroleum cans!
Reaching lengths of around 10 to 15 feet, tiger sharks can propel themselves through the water at approximately 32kph and may be capable of short bursts at higher speeds when attacking.
With a long tail and large pectoral fins to propel themselves through the water, tiger sharks are fast and agile enough to catch high-speed prey species such as dolphins, seals, and sea lions.
But, unsurprisingly, humans don’t stand a chance with a top speed of less than 10kph!
#10 Hammerhead Shark – 32 kph
With its oversized hammer-shaped head, the Hammerhead shark doesn’t look built for speed, yet it can hit 32 kph when needed.
Like the fastest sharks, it may not be endothermic, but it still manages to outrun and out-smart its prey.
With small fish, stingrays, and squid making up the mainstay of the Hammerhead’s diet, it needs a turn of speed to secure a meal.
It often does this by pinning its prey to the ocean floor with its head “while eating the wings bite by bite.”
What is the Slowest Shark?
Given the information we’ve uncovered about the relationship between body temperature and speed, it’s hardly surprising that the slower shark lives in the coldest environments.
The sloth-like Greenland shark rarely exceeds 0.34m per second. That’s slower than one mph!
Experts like Watanabe believe the cold water temperatures are responsible for their sluggish behavior, saying, “Many physiological processes, including muscle shortening speed, slow down with decreasing temperature.
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How Fast is a Blacktip Shark?
Not to be confused with the blacktip reef shark, blacktip sharks have a streamlined body that resembles the spinner shark.
Like the spinner, it’s also known to jump out of the water and perform spinning aerial maneuvers.
The reason for this is unknown, but to achieve the heights it does, experts believe the blacktip must be traveling at around 21 ft/s or 13 kph.
Are White Sharks Fast?
Great whites are one of the top 10 fastest sharks in the ocean, achieving top speeds of at least 40 kph, if not more.
How Fast is a Bull Shark?
A bull shark is surprisingly fast for an ectothermic species. It can launch itself through the water at just over 40 kph, which is plenty quick enough to deliver a stealthy, yet fatal blow.
How Fast is a Hammerhead Shark?
The hammerhead shark is faster than it appears, with swimming speeds in the region of 32 kph.
The shortfin mako is arguably, the fastest shark in the ocean, with the salmon shark coming a close second.
Streamlined bodies clad in tooth-like denticles reduce drag, while strong muscles and large fins help propel them through the water like torpedos.
However, these sharks would be a lot more sluggish without the ability to warm their muscles up, although probably still quicker than the near-stationary Greenland shark.
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Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.