Animal phyla that require macro-scale fluid transport for functioning have repeatedly and often independently converged on the use of jet flows. During flow initiation these jets form fluid vortex rings, which facilitate mass transfer by stationary pumps (e.g. cardiac chambers) and momentum transfer by mobile systems (e.g. jet-propelled swimmers). Previous research has shown that vortex rings generated in the laboratory can be optimized for efficiency or thrust, based on the jet length-to-diameter ratio (L/D), with peak performance occurring at 3.5<L/D<4.5. Attempts to determine if biological jets achieve this optimization have been inconclusive, due to the inability to properly account for the diversity of jet kinematics found across animal phyla. We combine laboratory experiments, in situ observations and a framework that reduces the kinematics to a single parameter in order to quantitatively show that individual animal kinematics can be tuned in correlation with optimal vortex ring formation. This new approach identifies simple rules for effective fluid transport, facilitates comparative biological studies of jet flows across animal phyla irrespective of their specific functions and can be extended to unify theories of optimal jet-based and flapping-based vortex ring formation.