Biggest Fish in the World, Ranked
Great white sharks are the most feared predators in the sea, but technically, they're just fish. Whales are mammals, but sharks fall under the same category as Nemo does. The scariest part? As big as great whites are, they aren't the largest.
It's tough to definitively rank the biggest fish in the world because the ocean is so massive. We know the surface of the moon better than we know the ocean floor and its (potentially terrifying) inhabitants. We've ranked these giant fish species based on their maximum recorded weight, but it's always possible that an even bigger, badder fish lurks in the deep.
15. Atlantic Blue Marlin
Max recorded weight: 1,402 pounds
Max recorded length: 13.4 feet
Atlantic blue marlins are a fisherman's dream. They usually weigh a few hundred pounds, and catching one is an impressive feat. Their deep-blue coloration and impressive length have inspired countless fishing competitions, with avid fisherfolk combing the sea for the largest specimen.
They're notoriously fast, strong and tenacious. They can break fishing lines and put up a powerful fight, but that only makes the competition more exciting. The largest recorded Atlantic blue marlin was caught in 1992 near Vitoria, Brazil. It measured 98 inches around. Blue marlins aren't the biggest fish on record, but they're one of the largest fish that actually looks like a fish, not a shark or a ray.
14. Reef Manta Ray
Max recorded weight: 1,543 pounds
Max recorded length: 18 feet
The reef manta ray makes those aquarium rays in the touch tank look like babies. They're the second-largest species of ray in the world, usually growing up to 11.5 feet in width and 18 feet in length. They could literally cover an entire living room floor. These majestic sea pancakes are primarily found in tropical waters, inhabiting fairly shallow regions near the coast.
As large as they are, they're peaceful. They eat by passively filtering zooplankton out of seawater. They can live for 50 years or more and are surprisingly intelligent for something that resembles aquatic breakfast food. They have the largest brain-weight ratio in cold-blooded fish species, and some populations even form close-knit communities.
13. Tiger Shark
Max recorded weight: 1,780 pounds
Max recorded length: 25 feet
The tiger shark is one of the most feared predators in the sea, second only to the great white. Frequently reaching over 20 feet in length and weighing over 1,000 pounds, their lazy, slow swimming habits can deceive rookie divers into complacency. When they're aggravated or hungry, they can go from zero to 60 in record time.
They can swim up to 20 mph, which is about twice as fast as an average person can run on land. They're mostly found around islands in the Central Pacific, but be on the lookout for tiger sharks any time you're in tropical or temperate waters. They won't target humans on purpose, but it's best to give them a wide berth just to be on the safe side.
12. Greenland Shark
Max recorded weight: 2,200 pounds
Max recorded length: 24 feet
The Greenland shark is ginormous, but it's also somewhat mysterious. Unlike most of the well-known shark species, Greenland sharks live in the frigid waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic. They belong to a family known as "sleeper sharks." While they're rarely spotted, they're thought to be one of the biggest living species of shark. The maximum recorded weight is 2,200 pounds, but there are likely larger Greenland sharks out there.
If you've ever tried eating shark at a seafood restaurant, it definitely wasn't a Greenland shark. Aside from being inaccessible, Greenland sharks have a high concentration of trimethylamine N-oxide in their bodies due to living in deep waters under pressure. This is toxic to humans, but in Iceland, some chefs treat Greenland shark meat to lower toxin levels and serve it as a delicacy.
Greenland sharks often live longer than humans. They actually have the longest known lifespan among vertebrates. They don't reach sexual maturity until around the age of 150, and one recorded specimen was estimated to be 392 years old at the time of its death.
Max recorded weight: 2,205 pounds
Max recorded length: 18 feet
The kaluga, affectionately nicknamed the river beluga, is among the largest species of sturgeon. It can live in both salt and fresh water, snacking on tasty salmon and other large fish in the Amur River. The kaluga is nearly extinct in the wild due to overfishing. It's illegal to catch them now, and hunting them is a felony in Russia. Sadly, that hasn't stopped poachers from trying due to value of the kaluga's eggs, called roe, which are made into caviar and other seafood specialty dishes.
Supposedly, kalugas can be very aggressive. Some fishermen have reported kalugas intentionally toppling over fishing boats. So far, there's no definitive proof that they've attacked humans, but considering we've hunted them to the brink of extinction, would you blame them if they had?
10. Megamouth Shark
Max recorded weight: 2,700 pounds
Max recorded length: 17 feet
Megamouth sharks look like grumpy old men, but they're as harmless as a friendly grandpa. They belong to a class of filter-feeding sharks along with whale sharks and basking sharks, eating nothing but plankton and jellyfish. Their giant head and blubbery lips make them easy to pick out from a crowd, but they're unlikely to join a crowd in the first place. Less than 100 megamouth sharks have been spotted since they were first discovered in 1976.
They're the smallest of the three filter-feeding shark species, but they're still larger than an SUV. Most of their time consists of following plankton, diving deep during the day and rising near the surface at night.
9. Beluga Sturgeon
Max recorded weight: 3,463 pounds
Max recorded length: 24 feet
The beluga sturgeon isn't nicknamed the great sturgeon by accident. They're the largest species of sturgeon (that we know of) in the sea, with a defined humpback and a thin snout.
They're massive enough that even most sharks won't mess with them. Like other sturgeon species, females are in high demand in the fish trade due to their roe.
8. Sharptail Mola
Max recorded weight: 4,400 pounds
Max recorded length: 9.8 feet
The sharptail mola is rarely seen, but anyone who sees one isn't likely to forget the experience. They weigh up to 2 tons, drifting through tropical and temperate waters like a giant, elliptical frisbee disc. It's hard to say what their range is, but they've been caught most frequently in the Gulf of Mexico.
They aren't dangerous, but they do have an intimidating protrusion extending from their tail that resembles a sword. Dangerous or not, we'll stick with sunbathing over deep-sea diving for now.
7. Ocean Sunfish
Max recorded weight: 4,400 pounds
Max recorded length: 10 feet
The ocean sunfish is another type of mola, known as the common mola. It's tough to say which mola is truly the largest because they're all gigantic and difficult to find. This one has a particularly bulbous head with a thin, almost-flat body. They're like a poorly designed dinner plate turned sideways.
They're considered a delicacy in Japan. While they're not aggressive in the slightest, they get their revenge in a comedic fashion. They love to throw their car-sized bodies out of the water and into the air, but their exuberant leaps have caused countless boating accidents.
Fun fact: Female ocean sunfish produce the most eggs of any vertebrate — 300 million eggs at once.
6. Hoodwinker Sunfish
Max recorded weight: 4,480 pounds
Max recorded length: 7.9 feet
Another intriguing type of sunfish, the hoodwinker mostly lives in colder waters in the Southern Hemisphere but was sighted near New Zealand in 2014. It has since been spotted drifting off the coasts of South Africa, Australia and Chile. From the side, they look a bit like eggs with fins attached.
Thanks to their awkward shape, you'd think they'd be slow, weak swimmers, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Hoodwinker sunfish dive to great depths in search of food, which adds to the fish's elusive nature.
5. Great White Shark
Max recorded weight: 5,060 pounds
Max recorded length: 23 feet
The infamous great white shark, also called the pointer shark, is giant, aggressive, fast and can live up to 70 years. Of all the large fish mentioned, this one is the most dangerous. Sure, there are larger fish out there, but none with such a concerning record of attacking humans. There are hundreds of recorded run-ins between great whites and humans, but only 53 of the attacks have been fatal.
Considering you're much more likely to be injured in a car accident or killed by a vending machine tipping over, the risk of being bitten by a shark is very low. Still, a 23-foot fish with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth is much more nightmare-inducing than a glass box full of Gatorade and Doritos.
They live all over the world, but if you're really scared of sharks, steer clear of Dyer Island in South Africa. That's where they have the greatest population density.
4. Giant Oceanic Manta Ray
Max recorded weight: 5,300 pounds
Max recorded length: 16 feet
The giant oceanic manta ray is the largest reported sea pancake ever. Their wingspan can be up to 30-feet wide, or about the length of a small school bus. Their skin is smooth and soft, and they spend most of their days drifting through tropical and subtropical waters, snacking on plankton and very small fish. If you think you spotted one in U.S. waters, you might not have been dreaming. They've been identified as far north as New Jersey.
As large as they are, they're completely harmless to humans. Unlike the ray that took out Steve Irwin, the giant oceanic manta ray has no stinger. It does have teeth, but it doesn't bite.
3. Southern Sunfish
Max recorded weight: 6,050 pounds
Max recorded length: 11 feet
The southern sunfish, also called Ramsay's sunfish, might be the least photogenic sunfish species, and it's also the biggest. They move through the water horizontally, lying on their side like a king-sized mattress in distress. But it isn't distressed in the slightest.
It looks awkward as heck, but it's an excellent diver, combing deep, cold waters for food. It also has an interesting symbiotic relationship with gulls, which snack on the parasites that like to attach to their bellies.
2. Basking Shark
Max recorded weight: 11,480 pounds
Max recorded length: 46 feet
The basking shark is an absolute beast. It's the second-largest fish ever recorded, and it swims through the water with its massive mouth wide open. As bone-chilling as it is to see a nearly 50-foot oceanic dinosaur swimming toward you, jaws agape, basking sharks aren't dangerous. You'd much rather run into one of these than a great white.
Basking sharks spend their 50-odd years of life exploring the continental shelves in solitude. They prefer temperate waters, and they drift through the water so lazily that they were dubbed the basking shark.
1. Whale Shark
Max recorded weight: 26,000 pounds
Max recorded length: 61.7 feet
Whale sharks take the cake for the biggest fish in the world. They're about the size of a large RV, making them the largest non-mammalian vertebrate. Like the basking shark and the megamouth shark, whale sharks are filter feeders. Hunting isn't a thing for them. They drift through the water peacefully, posing no threat to anything larger than a school of sardines.
They're usually solitary, but they periodically gather around the Yucatan Coast in large numbers of up to a few hundred individuals at a time. They like warm, tropical waters (no less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit), which might make them more adaptable to rising ocean temperatures than other shark species. They're so gentle that you can even dive with them if you travel to the right spot!