American Oceans

Biggest Fish Ever Recorded

The world is inundated with amazing species of fish varying in size, color, behavior, and population size.

biggest fish in the ocean

Interestingly, the fish that have made our list happen to be the largest of the species. Present on this list are fish such as sharks and sunfish; these fish can weigh over a ton and grow many meters in length on the larger end of the spectrum.

Continue reading if you want to be introduced to the largest fish species in the world. We’ve taken the liberty of including the biggest fish ever on record for every fish type.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the biggest fish in the ocean and a thorough breakdown concerning them.

Whale Shark

Scientific name: Rhincodon typus

Family: Rhincodontidae

Length: 18-32 ft

Distribution: All tropical and warm temperate seas (except in the Mediterranean)

Whale shark

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and grow to be 40 feet long. Having said that, whale sharks rarely grow more than 39 feet in length.

However, the largest whale shark weighed 46 tons and was 61.7 feet long. The shark has short snouts and broad heads that are flat; their backs have an intriguing checkerboard pattern that’s gray, yellow, and white.

The mouth of a whale fish shark has more than 300 rows of tiny teeth in addition to 20 filter pads used to filter feed. Whale shark mouths are uniquely positioned at the front of their heads instead of the underside of the head, as is typical sharks.

Although we do not know how long whale sharks can live, scientists estimate they can live from 60-100 years.

This fish shark’s diet consists mainly of small organisms such as schooling fish, squid, and plankton. The whale shark strains these organisms from the water while swimming with their specialized teeth and mouths, which are meters long. Fortunately, the whale shark is not a threat to human life.

Whale sharks are native to warm-temperate and tropical seas worldwide, preferring to reside in water temperatures of 68-77° Fahrenheit. This shark is mainly pelagic and can be found in oceanic and coastal habitats.

Basking Shark

Scientific name: Cetorhinus maximus

Family: Cetorhinidae

Length: 20-26 ft

Distribution: Worldwide in boreal to warm-temperate waters

can basking sharks eat humans

The basking shark can weigh nearly 38,000 pounds and reach lengths of up to 26 feet long, making this species the second-largest fish in the world. The largest basking shark recorded measured 30 feet long and 8,600 pounds.

These large fish are brown and gray with patchy or mottled skin. Their teeth are curved backward and look the same on the lower and upper jaws. The basking shark’s caudal fin has a pronounced and distinguished crescent shape. This fish species is not aggressive with humans whatsoever.

The basking shark feeds on plankton exclusively. The shark uses their filter feeder to feed near the surface of the water, almost like it’s basking in the sun—which is what it owes its name to.

After years of commercial exploitation for shark liver oil, shark fin, and food, as well as bycatch losses and threats from fishing, their population has been significantly reduced. On average, Basking sharks can live to 50 years of age. You can find this migratory shark species throughout the world’s temperate oceans.

Great White Shark

Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias

Family: Lamnidae

Length: 15-16 ft

Distribution: Coastal waters of all the oceans where water temperature ranges between 12 and 24 °C

Great white shark close up smiling and swimming

The Great White Shark has other monikers, such as the pointer shark, and is the most recognizable and feared shark in the world. You can find this majestic creature on the coast of all major oceans. Males can reach up to 11 to 13 feet on average, while females can get an impressive 20 ft in length. Estimates say that this species can live about 70 years, though there are reports of others living for longer.

The Great White Shark is an apex predator who preys on marine mammals of various sizes—topping out as large as baleen whales. Unlike other plankton-eating sharks, this shark’s diet is versatile. They prey upon fish, seabirds, and other marine animals. Their snouts are large and conical in shape. They have a gray/blue dorsal area with a mottled look and a white underside.

Females, in general, will not procreate until 33 years of age. Great whites can swim up to 16 miles per hour and swim as deep as 3,300 feet. The most enormous Great White observed was a female named Deep Blue, who weighed 4,500 pounds and measured 20 feet.

The species of shark is highly aggressive and is notorious for attacking more humans than any other species of fish. The densest populations of this species can be found around Dyer Island, South Africa. Interestingly, Great Whites use an electromagnetic field to find their prey.

Tiger Shark

Scientific name: Galeocerdo cuvier

Family: Galeocerdonidae

Length: 20-25 ft

Distribution: Central Pacific islands; tropical or temperate water

Tiger Shark predator or Galeocerdo cuvier

The Tiger shark, also known as the Sea Tiger, can reach lengths over 16 ft and weigh 6,000 pounds. The population of this species can be found distributed across temperate and tropical oceans. Moreover, denser populations live near the islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

The younger sharks feature black stripes resembling a tiger which disappear as they age. These sharks are solitary and nocturnal. Their diet consists of birds, seals, dolphins, and more, as they possess the most extensive variety of prey among all the sharks. 

Tiger sharks have significantly been affected by human activities, which has severely reduced their population, placing them on the IUCN Red List. The tiger shark is aggressive and is second only to the Great White regarding human attacks.

Although the tiger shark is seen as a lazy swimmer, this big fish can reach high speeds to catch its prey. The most giant tiger shark measured 13 feet 10.5 inches long and weighed 1,780 pounds.

Giant Oceanic Manta Ray

Scientific name: Mobula birostris 

Family: Mobulidae

Length: 15-23 ft

Distribution: Tropical and subtropical oceans

giant manta ray

The Giant Oceanic manta ray is the largest species of ray. These rays live in subtropical and tropical oceans. They can weigh about 6,600 lbs and grow up to 23 feet. The largest manta ray on record was 30 ft; however, there was no weight recorded for this catch.

The Giant Oceanic manta ray has smooth skin and a round shape like a disc. It has two cephalic fins near the front of its body and extensions of its pectoral fins. They take on a spiral shape when the ray starts swimming. Their eyes are on the side of their heads, and the manta ray’s 18 banded teeth are only in the lower half of their jaw. 

Giant Oceanic manta rays typically swim with other fish of the same species, but they also swim alone. They do not have many predators to worry about. 

Nonetheless, humans have caused a drastic decrease in the manta ray population because of reckless fishing practices. Another remarkable fact about this fish is that they have enormous brains, boasting the largest brain-to-body ratio of all cold-blooded fish. 

Ocean Sunfish

Scientific name: Mola Mola

Family: Molidae

Length: 6-11 ft

Distribution: Tropical and temperate oceans

Mola Mola Sunfish

The ocean sunfish is the largest living bony fish in the world. Adult Mola Mola weighs nearly  4,600 pounds, and they can get as long as 10.8 ft. Because of their peculiar shape, ocean sunfish can reach a height equal to their length. The largest ocean sunfish on record was found in Portugal, weighing around 6,000 pounds and measuring 11.8 ft. 

Their body is thin, and they have a broad head, and they make up for not having a tail through the use of modified rear and dorsal fins that allow them to propel forward quickly. Adults can be white, gray, or brown, with some having mottled skin patterns based on specific region locations. 

Female ocean sunfish can produce up to three hundred million eggs at once—more than any vertebrae. This sunfish species is a delicacy in various Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan. It frequently jumps from the water, which has been known to cause boating accidents because it’s so big.

You can find ocean sunfish in many tropical and temperate ocean waters worldwide. They eat large amounts of sea jellies each day. The natural predators of this fish are sharks, killer whales, and sea lions. However, due to fishing and other human activities, this species is under threat.  

Sharptail Mola

Scientific name: Masturus lanceolatus

Family: Molidae

Length: 8-11 ft

Distribution: Tropical and temperate marine waters

mola fish

The Sharptail Mola is another fish that lives in tropical and temperate ocean waters. Sightings are rare, and thus little is known about its behavior patterns. This mola species is elusive, but the largest sharptail ever found was 450 pounds, which washed ashore in North Carolina in 2022; no length has been recorded.

This Osteichthyes (bony fish) has a protrusion on the center of its tail that resembles a sword. They’re a silvery color with blotches of brown and black on the sides. Sharptail molas eat other fish, sponges, annelids, and more. 

Most of the time, they’ll go to epipelagic ocean zones during the day and night, which are depths of 16-656 ft (5-200 m) and 328-850 ft (100-259 m), respectively. The sharptail mola is the only representative of its genus.

Beluga Sturgeon

Scientific name: Huso huso

Family: Acipenseridae

Length: 5-11 ft

Distribution: Black, Caspian, and Adriatic Seas

humpbacked beluga sturgeon finding eggs for reproduction

The beluga sturgeon is critically endangered and has a restricted habitat that keeps it contained to the Adriatic, Caspian, and Black seas. It grows up to 11 ft long and can weigh 42-582 pounds. The largest beluga sturgeon was 23.6 ft long and weighed 3,463 pounds.

This member of the sturgeon family has a heterocercal tail, an elongated body, naked skin, and a partly cartilaginous skeleton. It has short anal fins and long dorsal fins. They develop a humpback as they mature, compared to the more slender build of juveniles. The adults eat a wide variety of other large fish, as well as young seals, aquatic birds, crustaceans, and mollusks. 

Humans specifically exploit the females for their beluga caviar, an expensive delicacy. There’s a need to protect these fish as much as possible from commercial exploitation due to irresponsible fishing and poaching activities. 

The beluga sturgeon is known to have a long lifespan, over one hundred years. It generally migrates upstream to lay eggs in rivers, and it eats other fish and sometimes waterfowl. 

Southern Sunfish

Scientific name: Mola alexandrini

Family: Molidae

Length: 8-11 ft

Distribution: Tropical and temperate seas

Mola alexandrini

The southern sunfish, also known as the bump-head sunfish, short sunfish, or Ramsay’s sunfish, can get up to 11 ft long and weigh 4,600 pounds. You can find the southern sunfish throughout the world’s oceans, except for the Antarctic and Arctic polar regions. 

The largest Southern Sunfish ever recorded weighed just over 6,000 pounds and was over ten feet long. Though this species can reside in most waters, it thrives in tropical and temperate seas. There isn’t much research regarding the lifespan of the sunfish, but it does have a high mortality rate. 

The southern sunfish uses its wide fins to glide through the waters horizontally. They have small mouths, and their teeth form a beak similar to a parrot. Their skin is a leathery texture, and they can be gray and brown with light-colored blotches. 

It’s easy to spot these bony fish lying on their side right beneath the water’s surface. Scientists think this fish dives so deeply through cold waters to catch its prey in an attempt to get warmer. They primarily eat jellyfish, but they also enjoy small fish, brittle stars, mollusks, plankton, salps, and algae.

Hoodwinker Sunfish

Scientific name: Mola tecta

Family: Molidae

Length: 6-8 ft 

Distribution: Temperate region of the southern hemisphere

Mola tecta

The hoodwinker sunfish is a unique member of the bony fish family that has a flat shape like an elliptical. It can weigh as much as 3,740 pounds and get as long as eight feet. It’s hard to spot this fish, as scientists that work near New Zealand first mentioned the hoodwinker sunfish in 2014. 

The largest hoodwinker on record is nearly eight feet tall, recorded during the 1960s; there is no weight mentioned for this discovery. The hoodwinker usually dives as far as hundreds of feet below sea level to catch its prey. It usually lives in cooler climates throughout the southern hemisphere. This has made it challenging for researchers to gather much information. 

The hoodwinker doesn’t have a tail fin, and it doesn’t have any spines in its other fins. This fish has an oval-shaped, flat body with no bumps and is smooth. Their diet consists of salps and nektonic siphonophores because these two organisms are most commonly found in the digestive tract. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most common inquiries regarding the biggest fish in the ocean ranked:

What was the largest fish ever caught?

Based on records from the International Game Fish Association, a great white shark was the largest fish ever caught. It was found in 1959, near the coast of Ceduna, Australia, and weighed 2,664 pounds. 

What is the biggest fish to ever exist?

The Leedsichthys problematicus, also known as the Leeds fish, is believed to be the largest fish ever. Scientists presume it could grow nearly 100 feet long and weigh more than 200,000 pounds. It has been challenging to find bones to study this species further. 

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