Factors Affecting Swimming and Leaping


Fish swimming speeds are affected by a number of factors. Here, we provide a brief outline of some of the more important factors affecting swimming speeds.  More comprehensive discussions on these topics can be found in the literature reviews by Beamish (1978) and Hammer (1995) and annotated bibliographies can also direct you to more in depth discussion of the various factors affecting swim speeds (Anderson and Bryant 1980, Copstead et al. 1998, Kahler and Quinn 1998, Mitchell 1973,  Newbrey and Bozek 2001).

Beamish (1978) identified five biological (length, weight, condition factor, sex, and disease) and five physical (temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide, salinity, and toxins) constraints on performance.  Other authors have identified additional factors that affect swimming speed including: stock (McDonald et al. 1962), spawning status (Collins et al. 1962), run timing (Gauley and Thompson 1962), physical conditioning (Cloavecchia et al 1998; Paulik and Delacy 1958), previous exhaustive exercise (Wood et al. 1983), feeding (Farrell et al. 2001), forced vs volitional swimming (Peake 2004), pipe fullness (Slatick 1971) and light (COE 1956).   

Summary of factors affecting fish swimming performance.





Species show a wide range of performance due to differences in swimming modes, methods of propulsion, and drag reducing systems. 

The swimming abilities of different fishes reflect their life history traits.

Videler 1993, Webb 1975, 1994.

Castro-Santos 2002; Peake et al. 1997; Swanson et al. 1998; Taylor and Foote 1991.


Increases in performance with increases in length.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978.

Time to exhaustion

Decreases in performance with increases in swimming time that the speed is maintained.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978.


Increase in prolonged performance with increase in weight.

Beamish 1978; Fry and Cox 1978.

Condition Factor

Decrease in performance due to increase in hydrodynamic drag with increased condition factor or decrease in metabolic scope for activity with increasing weight.

Beamish 1978; Vincent 1960; Green 1964.

Stage of Maturity

Not widely studied. Pink salmon study showed that gravid fish had better performance than spawning fish which were better than spawned out fish.

Williams and Brett 1987. Collins et al. 1962


Not widely studied. Male sockeye performed better than females and gravid male pink salmon performed better than gravid females. At other life stages differences between sexes were minimal.

Brett 1965; Williams and Brett 1987.


Little information on effect of bacterial infections. Performance decreases noted in Delta smelt infected with Mycobacterium spp. (20% reduction in Ucrit). Response to parasitic infections varied from no effect to 31 percent to 51 percent reduction in performance.

Swanson et.al. 1998. Parasitic infections reviewed in Beamish 1978.

River time anadromous species

Decrease in performance as anadromous fish neared spawning grounds.

Paulik and DeLacy 1957. Sakowicz and Zarnecki (1962)


Various performance levels exhibited by different strains of rainbow trout.

Thomas and Donahoo 1977


Performance of salmon spawning in upstream areas were better than performance of salmon spawning in the lower river, differences were attributed to inherited differences in body form.

Sockeye entering fresh water in early summer performed better than those entering in late summer.  Summer Chinook performed better than spring Chinook.

Anadromous Atlantic salmon performed better than landlocked Atlantic salmon.

Taylor and McPhail 1985;


Gauley and Thompson 1962.


Peake et al. 1997

Hatchery vs Wild

Wild fish performed better than hatchery fish.

McDonald et al. 1998a.


Unfed fish performed better than fed fish, performance differences related to gut blood flow.

Furrell et al. 2001.


Increase in performance with increase in protein content of food.

Beamish et al. 1989.


Downstream passage through a tunnel greatest when light provided downstream of tunnel.

Increase in performance in free swimming fish when light was provided.

No increase in performance in benthic (bottom dwelling) species when light was provided.

Blahm 1963;

Pavlou et al. 1972 in Hammer 1995.



Decreases in performance with increases in pipefullness

Slatick 1971


Decrease in performance is associated with a threshold level of oxygen in most species.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978.

Carbon Dioxide

Variable response by differing species; no decrease in performance in small mouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui) at CO2 levels up to 48 mg/l; and coho salmon had decrease in performance at CO2 levels between 2-61mg/l.

Dahlberg et al. 1968.


Change in performance seems to be age and species dependent it is likely that reduction in performance is proportional to energy spent inosmoregulation.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978.


Decrease in performance shown in response to the various toxins.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978 and in Hammer 1995; Peterson 1974.

Temperature Sustained and Prolonged Speeds

Increases in sustained and prolonged swimming speeds with increasing temperature to an optimum then decreases with increasing temperature.  For warm water species maximum Ucrit found in the range of 25 to 30 C and for cold water species the range was 15 to 20 C.

Topic reviewed in Beamish 1978 and in Hammer 1995.

Temperature Burst Speeds

Little changes in burst swimming speed with changes in temperature. 

Beamish 1978; Booth et al. 1997.

Previous Training

Increase in performance with training shown for various species.

Topic reviewed in Hammer 1995; Ward and Hilwig 2004.

Exhaustive Exercise

Decrease in performance due to previous exhaustive exercise, exhaustive exercise can result in death several hours after the exercise stops.

Paulik et al. 1957; Wood et al. 1983.


Decrease in performance due to handling stress.  Performance decline attributed to increased maintenance metabolic demand thus reducing active metabolic capacity.

Strange and Cesh 1992.

Forced vs Volitional Swimming

Decrease in performance in fish forced to swim.

Hinch and Bratty 2000; Peake 2004a; Peak 2004b;