In various phyla of marine invertebrates limited capacities of both ventilatory and circulatory performance were found to set the borders of the thermal tolerance window with limitations in aerobic scope and onset of hypoxia as a first line of sensitivity to both cold and warm temperature extremes. The hypothesis of oxygen limited thermal tolerance has recently been investigated in fish using a combination of non-invasive nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methodology with invasive techniques. In contrast to observations in marine invertebrates arterial oxygen tensions in fish were independent of temperature, while venous oxygen tensions displayed a thermal optimum. As the fish heart relies on venous oxygen supply, limited cardio-circulatory capacity is concluded to set the first level of thermal intolerance in fish. Nonetheless, maximized ventilatory capacity is seen to support circulation in maintaining the width of thermal tolerance windows. The interdependent setting of low and high tolerance limits is interpreted to result from trade-offs between optimized tissue functional capacity and baseline oxygen demand and energy turnover co-determined by the adjustment of mitochondrial densities and functional properties to a species-specific temperature range. At temperature extremes, systemic hypoxia will elicit metabolic depression, thereby widening the thermal window transiently sustained especially in those species preadapted to hypoxic environments.