Epidemics of marine pathogens can spread at extremely rapid rates. For example, herpes virus spread through pilchard populations in Australia at a rate in excess of 10 000 km year−1, and morbillivirus infections in seals and dolphins have spread at more than 3000 km year−1. In terrestrial environments, only the epidemics of myxomatosis and calicivirus in Australian rabbits and West Nile Virus in birds in North America have rates of spread in excess of 1000 km year−1. The rapid rates of spread of these epidemics has been attributed to flying insect vectors, but flying vectors have not been proposed for any marine pathogen. The most likely explanation for the relatively rapid spread of marine pathogens is the lack of barriers to dispersal in some parts of the ocean, and the potential for long-term survival of pathogens outside the host. These findings caution that pathogens may pose a particularly severe problem in the ocean. There is a need to develop epidemic models capable of generating these high rates of spread and obtain more estimates of disease spread rate.