How Fast Do Sharks Swim and Can We Beat Them in a Race?

Have you ever wondered ‘How fast do sharks swim?” 

While the swimming speed of the average shark depends on the exact species, the shortfin mako shark consistently exhibits an average pace of 31 mph (50 km/h).

Believe it or not, a few of them can even reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour!

Below, you’ll read about other fast shark species and why they move so fast!

How Fast Do Sharks Swim?

Similar to land hunter animals, the ocean’s apex predators have evolved to instantly accelerate to ludicrous speeds (20 to 30 mph) when they notice their prey.

However, only certain shark species have developed the slender streamlined bodies needed to reach these speeds, whereas bulkier sharks, those living in ice-cold waters, and those with different body types and hunting practices display a much slower swimming pace.

For instance, among other interesting facts about the whale shark is that it cruises at around 3 mph with short 6 mph bursts as it is a filter feeder that mostly eats plankton and small fish.

The Greenland shark is also notoriously slow (about 1.9 mph) as it has developed a less active metabolism due to its ectothermic physiology and the near-freezing environment it inhabits.

Why Do They Move So Fast?

In addition to their streamlined physique, the incredible shark speeds observed by scientists in some species are also the result of their endothermic system that helps them maintain higher metabolic heat than the environment, which is then spent during high-speed hunts.

Also, sharks are able to smooth out their forward thrust and make their swimming 100% more efficient than other fish by stiffening their back tails in midswing, which ultimately helps them create twice as many water jets as fish with symmetrical tails.

The fastest sharks are also obligate ram ventilators, meaning they need to keep swimming in order to breathe and not sink, and they can’t stop even to rest. So, evolution has equipped them with the fins needed to glide through the water with little energy and resistance.

Swimming Speed of the Average Shark

So, how fast can a shark swim on average?

The standard cruising speed across most shark species is around 5 mph, which is about the same pace as that of Olympic swimmers. However, they also regularly swim at around 1.5 mph, especially if they are conserving energy or resting.

However, when hunting, they accelerate up to 12 mph, and regardless of how fast you swim, you are likely to become one more shark attack statistic in such circumstances.

Luckily for humans, sharks use all their teeth to bite and feed on marine prey, and most shark attacks are the result of human provocation or out of fear and confusion.

Fastest Shark Species

If you are wondering what’s the fastest shark in our oceans, you will most likely find it in the family of white sharks (Lamnidae) or requiem sharks (Carcharhinidae) as out of all types of sharks out there, these two groups have developed into the fastest aquatic predators:

  1. Shortfin mako—the cheetah of the seas is a robust, torpedo-like, streamlined, endothermic shark with powerful tail keels that help it reach regular bursts of speed of at least 46 mph, travel 36 miles per day, and leap 20 feet over the surface;
  2. Salmon shark—another mackerel shark with a streamlined tapered body for minimal drag that comes in a close second with burst speeds of around 40 mph, which is much more impressive as it inhabits the colder waters of the North Pacific;
  3. Great white shark—with a cruising speed of 25 mph and bursts of 35 mph, the great white is the largest endothermic mackerel shark on our list, which despite its massive body reaches these speeds thanks to its large, strong fins and powerful lunate tail;
  4. Blue shark—the great blue is a requiem shark and a fierce, fast, and agile predator with an elongated torpedo-shaped body that helps it reach cruising speeds of up to 24.5 mph and bursts of up to 35 mph, in spite of not having any endothermic capabilities;
  5. Bull shark—even though it’s bigger, heavier, and with a flatter snout than the blue shark, this aggressive requiem shark is just as fast thanks to its longer caudal fin that helps it reach burst speeds above 30 mph and a standard cruising speed of 25 mph;
  6. Tiger shark—although it appears to swim slowly since it makes small body movements, the tiger shark is a large apex predator that uses its long fins and upper tail to look for prey at a standard 20 mph speed with brief speed bursts of up to 30 mph.

Note: All the shark species above are dangerous predators that have been involved in most recorded attacks on humans by marine species (often deadly) without seeking to do so.

First to the Finish Line

Now that you know how fast sharks swim, you should know better than to challenge one to a swimming race, especially if it belongs to any of the species listed above. Just for comparison’s sake, Michael Phelps swims at a speed of around 5 mph, which is nine times slower than the regular hunting speed of the shortfin mako and six times slower than the tiger shark.

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