Drone Footage Reveals How World’s Fastest Fish Changes Color as it Hunts

striped marlin ocean predator change color light stripes before kill

Groundbreaking drone footage has revealed how the world’s fastest fish spectacularly changes color right before it kills.

Striped marlin are deadly predators in the ocean and among the fastest animals on the planet — swimming at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

Scientists already knew that striped marlin take turns attacking their prey.

However, new research has revealed how these fish rapidly light up and change the color of their stripes to coordinate their group attacks.

In an unprecedented study in Current Biology, scientists used drones to capture how these ocean predators move and hunt.

The drone footage revealed how striped marlin change color and get brighter as they go in for the kill — transforming their blue-gray stripes into high-contrast stripes in mere moments.

However, after striking their prey and moving away from them, the marlin’s stripes dimmed again and returned to their usual blue-gray pre-hunting color.

When hunting schools of fish in groups, individual striped marlin take turns attacking their prey whilst the others follow on behind. Through drone footage, marine scientists discovered that these ocean predators change the color of their stripes to work together and communicate to others when they intend to attack their prey.

“We documented for the first time rapid color change in a group-hunting predator, the striped marlin, as groups of marlin hunted schools of sardines,” Alicia Burns of Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, says in a press release.

“We found that the attacking marlin ‘lit up’ and became much brighter than its groupmates as it made its attack before rapidly returning to its ‘non-bright’ coloration after its attack ended.”

Burns and her fellow scientists explained that the use of high-resolution videos and drones in their research allowed them to shed never-before-seen insight into the species’ behavior.

The researchers analyzed 12 high-resolution video clips, each containing two separate attacks on a school of sardines by two different marlin. They also quantified the contrast of the stripes on the two attacking marlins compared to a randomly chosen marlin that wasn’t attacking.

The scientists’ analysis confirms that the predatory fish rapidly change color, suggesting that the color change might serve as a reliable signal of an individual’s motivation to go in for an attack.

The discovery also suggests that striped marlins have more complex communication channels than had previously been thought. The researchers propose that the color changes might even serve a dual purpose of confusing their prey.

“Color change in predators is rare, but especially so in group-hunting predators,” Burns said. “Although it is known that marlin can change color, this is the first time it’s been linked to hunting or any social behavior.”


Image credits: All photos by Alicia Burns.