What are the fastest fish in the sea?

Not too long ago, I provided an update on the fastest fish in the sea, the Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus). I thought it would be interesting to do some research on how fast this fish is in comparison to other animals on land and in the sea and create a graphic to illustrate it.  First, some notes, there are some outliers I left off the chart. For instance, the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) at 325 miles per hour (mph), as well as pretty much the entire family of swifts (Apodidae) averaging a 106 mph flying speed. Also, I am certain there are many other species of terrestrial and flying animals that can be included in this list, I only added a few to compare. Please feel free to comment below or send me an email at info@beachchairscientist.com if you have something to add to the list!


Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 200 mph
Swift (Apodidae) 106 mph
Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) 70 mph
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) 70mph
Pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) 61 mph
Striped marlin (Tetrapturus audax) 50 mph
Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) 48 mph
Southern blue fin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) 47 mph
Yellow fin tuna (Thunnus albacares) 46 mph
Blue shark (Prionace glauca) 43 mph
Ostrich (Struthio camelus) 43 mph
Bonefish (Albula vulpes) 40 mph
Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) 40 mph
Tarpon (Megalops cyprinoides) 35 mph
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) 33 mph
Hawk moth (Sphingidae) 33 mph
Human (Homo sapiens) 27 mph

For more information I recommend The Travel Almanac and The Top 10 List.

An important call for more forage fish to remain in the sea

A report titled “Little Fish Big Impact”, written by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, came out earlier this month recommending that the amount of forage fish (e.g., menhaden, herring, shad) that we take from the ocean should be cut in half. However, since forage fish have an annual value world-wide of $5.6 billion dollars and are almost 40% of the world’s commercial fish catch these suggestions might be a tough sell to get passed through many decisions makers. But, here is why it is important we do.

You may not typically think of forage fish, also know as ‘bait fish’, as being a high commodity for fishermen or as playing an imperative role in the ocean – but, they do indeed! It’s surprising how much these little fish play a role in our daily lives.

Within the marine food web we begin with the tiny microscopic phytoplankton (plants that get their energy from the sun). Phytoplankton are  then in turn grazed upon by tiny copepods and  they are then fed upon these forage fish and crustaceans that are fed on by larger fish (e.g., striped bass, bluefish) that are then fed upon by the top predators (e.g., tunas, swordfish) that then feed us. Easy, right? Well, Dr. Daniel Pauly pointed out that within fisheries what is happening today is an imbalance of ‘Fishing Down the Marine Food Web’.

Time increases toward the right along the blue arrow. Scale on the right gives the trophic level in the food web. (Pauly, 2003)

This is the concept that when top predators are removed smaller fish become more of a target. Which would mean that the average trophic level of the food web would shift (Trophic being the level an organism occupies within a food chain). Specifically, forage fish are the primary source of protein for penguins, marine mammals, cod, salmon, tuna, and even puffins. We use these species for the production of fish oil supplements, food for livestock, and food provided to the fish we’re farming via aquaculture.

The Lenfest Report provides information and recommendations to fisheries managers in a three-tiered approach that the Task Force says was lacking prior, which is why we’ve currently been able to harvest the amount of forage fish at such high levels. The three-tiered approach involves understanding the 1) dynamics of the fishery, 2)  knowledge of the status of the trends of the fishery’s predators, as well as 3) recommended management actions.

“Traditionally we have been managing fisheries for forage species in a manner that cannot sustain the food webs, or some of the industries, they support. As three-fourths of marine ecosystems in our study have predators highly dependent on forage fish, it is economically and biologically imperative that we develop smarter management for these small but significant species,” stated Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University (they led the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force).

Most recently, managers in the Mid-Atlantic have noticed the increasing importance of forage fish and voted to reduce the annual harvest of menhaden from 183,000 metric tons to 174,000. Read more here on the report and what other measures are being done to keep menhaden levels more sustainable.

It will be interesting to see how this report impacts forage fisheries in the future. I certainly hope it does.

Check out this video from the Task Force to learn more on the importance of forage fish.

Lastly, here is a quick overview of what it means to be a sustainable fishery:

  • If we are referring to a sustainable wild fishery (one that is not farmed) it could be the measure of the abundance and resilience to fishing pressure, how well-managed the fishery is based on current research, and/or that the fishery is harvested in ways that do not harm the environment or have negative interactions with protected species as bycatch.
  • With farmed species a sustainable it is typically a measure of minimizing marine resources, preventing escapes or diseases to wild stocks, as well as ensuring that the fishery is not associated with high pollution or other ways of negatively harming the habitat.
  • For a good resource to discover what fishery is sustainable in your region,  please check out the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.

The Bluefish by Isaac McLellan


Bluefish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you enjoy this poem about a very popular Atlantic coast recreational species, the bluefish. I have some fond childhood memories aboard my grandparents boat, Irish Eyes, learning many life lessons while seeking out bluefish.

Issac McLellan (1806 – 1899) was a New England author and poet. Coincidentally, he was born in Portland, Maine which is where we’re headed today! Enjoy.

The Bluefish by Isaac McLellan

(Pomatomus Saltatrix.)

It is a brave, a royal sport,
Trolling for bluefish o’er the seas;
Fair skies and soaring gulls above,
A steady blowing breeze;
A shapely yacht whose foaming prow
The billowy plain divides,
That like a gallant courser speeds
Far, free o’er ocean tides.

First from West India seas they came,
Haunting the Cuban coast,
Cruel as Spanish buccaneers,
A fierce, rapacious host.
But now by Northern seaboard shores
Their murderous way they take,
From Mexico Gulf to Labrador,
Wherever billows break.
The weaker tenants of the main
Flee from their rage in vain,
The vast menhaden multitudes
They massacre o’er the flood;
With lashing tail, with snapping teeth
They stain the tides with blood.

Rakish are they, like pirate craft,
All matchless to assail,
With graceful, shapely, rounded sides
And the sharp, forked tail;
And when the angler’s hook is fixed
They fight, they struggling bleed,
Now leaping high, now plunging deep,
Darting with lightning speed.

And yet these sea marauders,
These tyrants of the main,
By fiercer, mightier ruffians
Are hunted, conquered, slain;
The tumbling porpoise hunts them,
Dorado fierce pursues,
And when the shark assaileth,
Blood-stains the waves suffuse.

Can you name the state fish of Hawai’i?

It’s “Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a” in case you missed it when the bartender mentioned it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. As a bonus, I’ll also give you a rundown of all the other states with a state saltwater/game fish. Some you may already know, but  some might surprise you! I never would have thought that so many states have striped bass designated as a state fish or state saltwater fish. After all, there are over14,000 species of saltwater fish out there.

(If I missed one please feel free to let me know and I’ll add it to the list. All you have to do is leave a comment of email info@beachchairscientist.com.)

Fighting tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) – These fish can absorb oxygen and live in waters with almost no oxygen.

King salmon  (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) – These fish regularly exceed 45 lbs and the largest on record was a 126 lb caught in 1949.

Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus) – These fish are very territorial and call kelp forests home of choice.

American shad (Alosa sapidissima) – These fish only have one dorsal fin and one anal fin.

Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) – These fish are not weak at all but quite strong fighters. The name refers to the easily torn part membrane in its mouth.  A fond memory of my childhood involves my grandfather always giving my folks some weakfish he caught on his boat, Irish Eyes.

Atlantic sailfish  (Istiophorus albicans) – These fish are the fastest fish in the sea and have been observed at speeds above 65 miles per hour.

Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) – This fish has blue teeth.

Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) – These fish are also commonly known as rockfish.

Cod (Gadus morhua) – These fish will change colors depending on where it spends its days. If it prefers the sea floor it will appear gray and if it prefers algal areas it will appear greenish.

North Carolina:
Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) – These fish got their name from their coloring and from the drumming sound produced by their  their swim bladder.

New Hampshire:
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) – These fish prefer coastlines and are most active in the spring and fall. Sport fishermen love to catch them during the striper runs.

New York:
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) – These fish are the most popular sportfish on the Atlantic coast. 

Rhode Island:
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) – These fish prefer to eat before dawn and at dusk. 

South Carolina:
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) – These fish do not have eyelids so when the sun is out they prefer to retreat to deeper waters.

April is National Frog Month

Yes, that is correct – April is National Frog Month. However, this is not a post about the amphibian, but is all about the frogfish! Contrary to popular belief, it’s easy being green if you’re a frogfish. First of all, you can change colors from green to black, or red, or orange, or yellow, or brown, or white, or purple, or even blue! These colors help the frogfish mimic corals, sponges, algaes, or even rocks. Often a trusting fish become prey all too easily as they go to hide in the ‘coral’ or ‘rock’ only to then get eaten by the frogfish that has transformed . Frogfish gobble up their prey in 6 milliseconds. Frogfish actually have the fastest mouth in the sea. Their mouth is able to expand 12 times its size and they can easily eat prey 25 percent longer. They’re opportunistic and eat whenever possible. They tend to feast on smaller fish, crustaceans, or even other frogfish!

Another amazing mechanism of the frogfish is an antenna that dangles from their head. They’ll mimic the actions of a smaller animal (e.g., a worm or shrimp) with this antenna so that their own prey will swim right up to them. Don’t worry though, the lure will regenerate if eaten.

Frogfish do not have a swim bladder, but do have modified pectoral fins enabling them to ‘walk’ along the seafloor. See the video below to see this in action.

Frogfish live in the tropical and subtropical areas in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

It is the original footage from these hairy frog fish walking on the sand was made by Daan van Wijk in Indonesia. These scenes are from the movie Impressionesia”.

‘Wicked Tuna’ is food for thought

Tomorrow the National Geographic Channel (of which approximately over 50% is owned by NewsCorp, a Murdoch Company) is debuting the television show Wicked Tuna. The show is intriguing because the species itself is remarkable.

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) can swim up to 40 miles per hour and can dive up to 3,000 feet. Their body is so remarkably streamlined for efficiently swimming through the ocean that Pentagon-funded scientists have studied the species as a model for Navy torpedoes. They’re also known to travel far and wide (actually, across entire oceans over their lifetime). This causes some challenges when coming together to manage the species.

The dilemma I have in deciding to watch the show is that NatGeo may be glorifying the bluefin tuna as a species of consumption so that people start ordering it more. But, folks need to understand the repercussions and ask one more question, “Is this bluefin tuna caught in the U.S.?”

As I mentioned, there are some challenges with managing a species that spans globe. Bluefin tuna are an internationally managed species, guided by the intergovernmental body the International Commission on Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Within management plans of the ICCAT, it is irrefutable that the U.S. bluefin fishery is the most sustainably managed in the world. The bluefin tuna caught in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts is predominantly hand gear (rod and reel or harpoon). This fishery is well regulated and responsible. There is also bluefin tuna caught as bycatch from the longline fisheries targeting other types of tuna. To reduce bycatch, fisheries are now required to use circle hook and weak hooks to reduce the bluefin tuna bycatch, as well as other nontarget species (e.g., sea turtles). The species is slow to mature and catching young bluefin tuna reduces the chance they’ll have the opportunity to reproduce. That is why it is so negligent to eat the bluefin tuna from the poorly regulated European fishery. Many of the bluefin caught there are with purse seines or longlines. In fact, since industrial fishing began in the Mediterranean it is estimated that over 80 percent of bluefin stocks have been fished out.

It’s no help that there is extreme demand for this type of fishing pressure as sushi chefs will pay gobs for the fish. The ‘Wicked Tuna” fishermen can get up to $20,000 for each fish. In January 2012, a Tokyo restaurant paid $736,000 for a bluefin tuna at auction (there’s the ‘first fish phenomenon’ which can bring a lot of publicity to a restaurant for paying a high amount for the first fish).

The Monterey Bay Seafood Guide lists bluefin tuna as a species to avoid. The Center for Biological Diversity encourages the public to boycott any restaurants serving bluefin tuna. Greenpeace has even stated that, “The world needs to see a ban on bluefin tuna fishing until stocks recover”. National Geographic claims this show’s scope includes a “solid conservation message about what’s been going on with the bluefin”. So, if you must ask for ‘Wicked Tuna’, make sure it’s at least from the U.S. Certainly, food for thought.

New ‘marine life encyclopedia’ launched

I think there might be another great bookmark to add to your ocean facts files! Please spend some time reviewing this great new resource, a marine life encyclopedia, compiled by Oceana. Over 500 creatures, places, and concepts can be explored. The pictures are bright and colorful and the information is up-to-date and easy to digest. It seems fantastic if you want a quick answer to a question.

Even if you think you know all the answers, test yourself with this Ocean IQ quiz!

The content on the marine life encyclopedia site has been licensed to Dorling Kindersley, one of the world’s leading educational publishers.

5 facts about fish farming

Fish farming on Lake Titicaca.

Image via Wikipedia

Here are five facts about the glory and challenges of fish farming. Fish farming and aquaculture has really stepped up due to the demand for the world’s fish consumption, but maybe not in the most sustainable manner like Linda Thornton.

1.) It’s polluting our water

It seems as though large fish farm like to cram fish to live in very tight spaces. A large amount of fish would lead to a large amount of waste produced by the fish. Also, the unfavorable conditions often lead to disease. Fish farmers tend to treat the disease and infection with harmful antibiotics which further harm the surrounding waterways.

2.) It brings untested chemicals to your dinner plate

It seems as though many of the antibiotics used to treat diseases on foreign fish farms are commonly made of chemical banned in the US. Since there is no regulation often these harmful chemicals make their way to your dinner table.

3.) It’s tearing apart mangroves

Shrimp farmers are tearing apart the mangroves to make way for their new crop of this popular crustacean. However, this destroys a delicate nursery ground for many local fish species. In turn this depletion in resources severely affects local economies. What makes matters worse is that often these shrimp farms are abandoned in order to find better producing areas.

4.) It’s often counter-productive

Fish farms can be tough to maintain, especially for salmon and other carnivorous species. They tend to eat more food than they actually produce! This is turn leads to a lot of waste that can disturb the balance of the surrounding waterways.

5.) It does good things!

Some fish farms raise species that are actually clear out pollutants from the water. Bivalves (oysters, mussels, etc.) are filter feeders and cleanse their aquatic habitat! Also, tilapia are herbivores and do not require as much input as the carnivorous farmed fish need.

Test your knowledge: National Ocean Science Bowl biology

Here are some more sample questions from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership‘s popular National Ocean Science Bowl (NOSB). These questions come from the Biology section.

Good luck!

1) Northern elephant seals come ashore during the spring and summer to do what? a) Mate b) Eat c) Give birth d) Shed their fur

2) The habitat of blue whales, tunas and swordfishes is best described as: a) Benthic b) Littoral c) Estuarine d) Pelagic

3) Intensive aquaculture of which of the following organisms has contributed to loss of mangroves around the world? a) Tilapia b) Cod c) Salmon d) Shrimp

4) Lophelia (LO-fee-lee-ua) coral reefs in the North Atlantic are being primarily damaged by: a) Pfiesteria b) Poisoning c) Rising temperatures d) Trawling

Arnie ain’t no anglerfish

The Humpback anglerfish uses a modified dorsal...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, well, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a love child. As a newlywed I shook my head when I heard the news and said “surely they’re not all like that.”

I decided to investigate to find out if there are any truly monogamous species out in the blue sea.

Also, I did watch March of the Penguins. As much as I admire the Emperor penguins for staying together to raise their young, they are not lifelong monogamists. Each season they usually procreate with a different partner.

However, one group of anglerfish, from the family Ceratiidae, has a very faithful male (a little to clingy though if you ask me). Highly sensitive olfactory adaptations have evolved in these male anglerfish that allow them to smell out females. This is very useful as they are in the desolate landscape of the deep sea. Once they sniff out a mate, the males basically bite into the flesh of the females and fuse their mouth into her bloodstream. After that, these males will degenerate and simply be a source of sperm for the females.

Without this process the males would not be able to survive. The males of this family do not grow ’em tall due to the lack of a alimentary canal, essential for feeding. The males are scientifically smaller than the females and several males can be attached to one female. It took researchers some time to uncover the mystery that is the male anglerfish. For the longest time they couldn’t figure out why they were only collecting females specimens. But, unbeknown-st to them, the males were there too.

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