How Fast Do Sharks Swim?

Sharks are apex predators which are usually misunderstood and feared when swimming in the ocean.

How Fast Do Sharks Swim?

They can be found across the globe in all oceans, but the majority prefer to live inland where productivity is high.

Many people don’t like the idea of sharks living near humans, but in reality, they don’t want to eat humans and we aren’t a source of prey. 

If you’ve ever watched a wildlife documentary and have noticed a shark swimming leisurely along, you may have questioned how fast they actually swim.

Keen scuba divers may be more concerned with the speed of a shark if they are anticipating encountering one. Swimming speed generally depends on the species of shark. 

Let’s answer the question: “how fast do sharks swim?”. 

Speed Of The Average Shark

Typically sharks gently coast through the oceans at around 1.5 mph (2.4 kph) looking for prey.

More energetic speeds of around 5 mph (8 kph) are seen on average when swimming normally.

To put this in perspective, this is a similar speed to an Olympic swimmer.

Sharks are known for using short bursts of energy when it comes to attacking their prey.

The short bursts are similar to land mammals’ lunges or pounces, so they need to be quick. 

These predators can reach speeds between 12 to 60 mph when lunging after their prey, so it would be pretty difficult for us humans to outswim them.

The size and habitat of the shark can influence how fast they can swim.

For example, smaller and more streamlined sharks swim a lot faster than the bigger bulky ones.

Why Are Sharks So Fast?

How Fast Do Sharks Swim?

The body of the shark is anatomically designed to be fast.

Sleek bodies that taper to points at the ends and wide fins give them the extra surface area to move through the water with ease. 

Skeletons

Although the body of a shark may look large, their skeletons aren’t made from bones as you might expect, they are made from lightweight cartilage which makes them more streamlined and able to swim faster.

Scales

Dermal denticles are flat v-shaped scales that look like tiny teeth and are found on the bodies of some sharks.

These scales reduce the drag and turbulence when swimming, allowing the shark to swim faster and quietly making it easier to stalk prey.

The denticles also increase lift which is one of the main components of speed other than thrust. 

Denticles can vary in shape and size depending on the species of shark. 

Fins 

The tail of a shark stiffens mid-swing and provides the animal with an added thrust which means it creates twice as many jets of water, this is thought to make it such an efficient swimmer.

Some researchers suggest that the muscles in the fin are modifying their shape to enable them to modify the water flow. 

Tail fins are also designed to help the animals to keep from sinking, their shape helps them to generate lift in the water.

The top of the tail extends further back than the bottom which in turn creates a slant along the edge whereas most fish have an evenly shaped tail fin. 

Pressure builds on the thrusting side of the caudal fin and decreases on the trailing side of the fin causing water to move over the shark’s body sideways.

This sideways movement disrupts the boundary layer of water (next to the shark’s body) and is crucial to reducing drag. 

Keels

A caudal keel is present on certain species of shark, this is a ridge on the caudal peduncle which helps to strengthen the tail base.

The caudal peduncle is the area where the body meets the fin; it also moves from side to side when the fish swims.

The keel provides stability by reducing turbulence during fast movement in the water. 

Which Is The Fastest Shark?

How Fast Do Sharks Swim?

The world’s fastest shark is the Shortfin Mako Shark, often found in tropical and warm waters of the ocean.

This shark cruises along at around 31 mph (50 kph) and can have bursts of up to 46 mph (74 kph).

With an extremely streamlined body and a powerful tail designed to propel the shark through the water, it is no wonder top speeds of 60 mph have been recorded. 

Another evolutionary adaptation that helps the speed of this creature is its endothermic body type.

In the context of animals, endothermic means that the animal is able to internally generate heat. 

Therefore their body temperatures are warmer than the water surrounding them.

Heat is a form of energy that can be efficiently transferred to the muscles of the fish, allowing them to travel at faster speeds.

Alongside the Great White, these are thought to be much faster sharks as they live in warmer waters. 

Other Fast Sharks 

Other sharks that are notorious for their speed are Salmon sharks and Great White sharks.

Salmon sharks can swim up to 50 mph (80.5 kph).

Similarly to the Mako, they have extremely streamlined and endothermic bodies with large muscles that help to propel them in the water. 

Regardless of its size, the Great White is the third-fastest shark in the ocean, swimming at an impressive 25 mph (60 kph).

Interestingly it is their huge endothermic bodies that help them swim so fast, the powerful tails movement is increased by the force of their weight.

Final Thoughts 

Sharks are the fastest fish on the planet.

Their bodies have evolutionarily adapted in order to make them streamlined, using short bursts of energy to swim up to 60 mph to catch their prey.

On average, a shark swimming at a leisurely pace is around 1.5 mph and the average swimming speed is between 5-8 mph. 

As very skilled apex predators, sharks lunge for their prey. To do this they expel short bursts of energy with the fastest sharks travelling at up to a staggering 60 mph.

We hope you enjoyed learning about how fast a shark can swim!

Mikayla Adams

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