Hearts are the first organs to fail in animals exposed to heat stress. Predictions of climate change mediated increases in ocean temperatures suggest that the ectothermic heart may place tight constraints on the diversity and distribution of marine species with cardiovascular systems. For many such species, their upper temperature limits (T max) and respective heart failure (HF) temperature (T HF) are only a few degrees from current environmental temperatures. While the ectothermic cardiovascular system acts as an “ecological thermometer,” the exact mechanism that mediates HF remains unresolved. We propose that heat-stressed cardiac mitochondria drive HF. Using a common New Zealand fish, Notolabrus celidotus, we determined the T HF (27.5°C). Haemoglobin oxygen saturation appeared to be unaltered in the blood surrounding and within heat stressed hearts. Using high resolution respirometry coupled to fluorimeters, we explored temperature-mediated changes in respiration, ROS and ATP production, and overlaid these changes with T HF. Even at saturating oxygen levels several mitochondrial components were compromised before T HF. Importantly, the capacity to efficiently produce ATP in the heart is limited at 25°C, and this is prior to the acute T HF for N. celidotus. Membrane leakiness increased significantly at 25°C, as did cytochrome c release and permeability to NADH. Maximal flux rates and the capacity for the electron transport system to uncouple were also altered at 25°C. These data indicate that mitochondrial membrane integrity is lost, depressing ATP synthesis capacity and promoting cytochrome c release, prior to T HF. Mitochondria can mediate HF in heat stressed hearts in fish and play a significant role in thermal stress tolerance, and perhaps limit species distributions by contributing to HF.