The digestion, absorption and post absorptive metabolism of a radiolabelled triacylglycerol (TAG; triolein) and a free fatty acid (FFA; oleic acid), delivered by tube feeding, was studied in herring Clupea harengus larvae, using metabolic chambers and video analysis. In general, a large amount of the delivered lipid was evacuated. Most of the evacuation occurred between 2 and 6 h after tube feeding although a group of larvae responded by rapidly evacuating the lipid (>50% before 2 h). The volume of the tube‐fed lipid affected its utilization. A small volume of triolein (9·2 nl, representing c. 6% of gut filling capacity) resulted in a lower proportion of fast evacuating larvae and improved utilization (lower evacuation and higher absorption: body incorporation and catabolism) compared with 50·6 nl (c. 17% of gut filling capacity). Increases in the volume of tube fed triolein enhanced only marginally label absorption and led to a steep rise in evacuation. At a comparable high volume (50·6 nl), oleic acid, which does not require digestion, was better absorbed and less evacuated than triolein. The video observation of the lipid digestive process revealed a considerable gut contractile activity that appeared effective in processing the tube fed lipid. Also, the gut wall seemed very sensitive to physical pressure. Signs of chemical degradation during lipid digestion were also noted. The metabolic studies, together with video image analysis, suggested that the limiting step for the utilization of high dietary lipid levels may have been the lipid absorption into the enterocytes and transport into the body, rather than lipid digestion. The results support the notion that the rate of lipid digestion and absorption in fishes is slower than that of mammals.