Monday, 1 August 2016

The top ten fastest creatures in the sea

It’s surprisingly difficult to measure the speed of animals in water, mainly due to the fact that both the fish and the water are moving, and it’s hard to take all the variables into account. Having said that, there are a variety of techniques which are commonly used to estimate the speed of aquatic animals.

One popular method is to note the speed of a boat when the creature is swimming alongside, matching its pace. Alternatively, you can roughly work out the speed based on how quickly a fish can unravel a length of fishing line or cover a certain distance. 

To get precise measurements, aquacultural engineers are refining video techniques to measure fish size, speed and behaviour in a non-intrusive fashion, using at least 20 minutes of footage. However, it’s hard to get all the conditions and measurements right, and some methods only give an accurate average speed, and would not be the best way to clock those record-breaking figures. Test chambers are used too, with varying results.
The inaccuracies and ‘guestimations’ involved in this tricky measuring task mean that we might never know the top speeds of these amazing creatures. But we have a rough idea. 

As a point of comparison, the fastest land mammal, the mighty cheetah, sprints at around 60-68mph (up to 110kph). Aquatic speeds are all the more impressive because of water resistance: since water is over 780 times denser than air, swimming fast is a lot harder than running fast. The quickest human swimmer recorded, Frédérick Bousquet, only just breaks 5mph (8kph) over 50 metres.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 fastest swimming animals:

10. Killer Whales – said to reach over 34mph (55kph)

The magnificent orca is the largest member of the dolphin family, and is an apex predator – this means that no creature dares to prey on it. The estimate of its speed does not take into account the quick bursts that orcas use when hunting; truly an ocean predator to be feared.

9. Flying Fish – 35mph (56kph)

Flying fish are powerful creatures that make self-propelled leaps into the air, gliding on updrafts above the water to cover surprisingly long distances - up to 400 metres. A flying fish nicknamed ‘Icarfish’ was caught on camera ‘flying’ for a record-breaking 45 seconds off the coast of Japan in 2008. 

8. Bonefish – 35-40mph (56-64kph)

Bonefishing is a popular sport in the Bahamas and the south of Florida. Fishers often wade into the shallows to catch the bonefish, and they often release the silvery fish back into the water.  

7. Bonito – 40mph (64kph)

Although ‘bonito’ means pretty in Spanish and Portuguese, the name of this fish is believed to have come from the Italian for ‘good’, referring to the excellent taste of the meat. Bonitos are part of the Scombridae family, shared with tuna, mackerel and the butterfly kingfish.

6. Mako Shark – said to reach 45mph (72kph)

Mako sharks are thought to be the fastest sharks around, although there is some debate over exactly how fast they really are. The name is probably derived from the Maori for shark or shark tooth, and some sources claim these fearsome creatures can swim at speeds of up to 60mph. 

5. Wahoo – 48mph (77kph)

Wahoo are relatively solitary fish, preferring to live alone, or in small groups of two or three fish. Most of the wahoo that have been examined have a giant stomach parasite living inside them. Luckily for wahoo, the worm seems to cause the fish no harm. 

4. Yellowfin Tuna – 50mph (80kph)

In the contest for the speediest tuna, the Atlantic Bluefin and Albacore tuna come in close behind the Yellowfin, both hitting speeds of around 40mph (64kph). 

Unlike most fish, tuna are warm-blooded. Their warm muscles are thought to be part of the reason why they are so fast, and they can swim long distances without tiring, sometimes crossing entire oceans.

3. Swordfish – measured at around 60mph (97kph)

Known as broadbills in some countries, swordfish are named so because of their long, flat bill. Contrary to popular belief, swordfish do not spear their prey, and instead use their long bill to slash around and surprise unsuspecting prey. They shed all their scales and teeth in adulthood.

2. Black Marlin – measured at over 60mph (97kph)

Black Marlins are some of the largest bony fish; they can grow to over 4.6m long and weigh up to 750kg. These are prize catches for fishermen, and apparently, according to research in Australia, they are easiest to catch just after the full moon, due to their prey moving to the surface of the water. 

1. Sailfish – measured at 68 mph (109kph) while leaping

Sailfish are widely recognised as the fastest fish in the water. They have a distinctive sail-like dorsal fin which they keep folded when swimming, but can raise when threatened or excited to make themselves look bigger.

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