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The upper jaw is modified into a long bill which is circular in cross section. This upper jaw is approximately twice the length of the lower jaw. Two dorsal and anal fins are present. The first dorsal fin is large, much taller than the width of the body. This large fin runs most of the length of the body, with the longest ray being the 20th. The first anal fin is set far back on the body. Second dorsal and anal fins approximately mirror one another in size and shape. Both are short and concave. The pectoral and pelvic fins are long with the pelvic fins almost twice as long and nearly reaching the origin of the first anal fin. The pelvic fins have one spine and multiple soft rays fused together. A pair of grooves run along the ventral side of the body, into which the pelvic fins can be depressed. The caudal peduncle has double keels and caudal notchs on the upper and lower surfaces. The lateral line is readily visible. Body color is variable depending upon level of excitement. The body is dark blue dorsally and white with brown spots ventrally. About 20 bars, each consisting of many light blue dots, are present on each side. The fins are all generally blackish blue. The anal fin base is white. The first dorsal fin contains many small black dots, which are more common towards the anterior end of the fin.


The Atlantic sailfish swims in the surface epipelagic and oceanic waters. It generally remains above the thermocline, in water temperatures between 70° and 83°F (21° to 28° C). There is evidence that it also swims into deeper water. It is less oceanic than other billfishes, making frequent forays into nearshore water.


Cephalopods (squid and octopus) and bony fishes are the primary prey items of the sailfish in the Atlantic Ocean. Mackerels, tunas, jacks, halfbeaks, and needlefish are the most commonly taken fishes. These prey items indicate that some feeding occurs at the surface, as well as in midwater, along reef edges, or along the bottom substrate. Sailfish in the Pacific region feed on fishes and cephalopods including squid. Fishes consumed include sardines, achovies, jacks, dolphin, ribbonfish and triggerfish.


In the Atlantic, sailfish has little value as a commercial fishery, with the meat being relatively tough and rarely sold unless smoked. However, the sailfish is highly sought after by recreational fishermen. Popular fishing locations include Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Windward Islands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic sailfish are usually hooked by trolling, with either whole mullet or ballyhoo as bait. In the Indo-Pacific, sailfish are taken as bycatch by commercial tuna longliners. They are also caught with driftnets, harpoons, and by trolling by commercial fishers.


The sailfish is one of the smaller members of the family Istiophoridae. The maximum size for the sailfish from the Atlantic region is 124 inches (340 cm) total length and around 128 pounds (100 kg). The all-tackle record listed by International Game Fish Association (IGFA) is (100 kg). In southern Florida, the fish tend to be smaller, generally between 68-90 inches (173-229 cm) total length. Commercial longline vessels in the Atlantic generally catch fish of 49-83 inches (125-210 cm) in length. The largest fish are usually females. In waters of the Pacific Ocean, the maximum size for the sailfish is recorded at 134 inches (340 cm) total length and around 220 pounds (100 kg) in weight.


The sailfish is distributed from approximately 40° N to 40° S in the western Atlantic Ocean and from 50° N to 32° S in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It has been taken in the Mediterranean Sea, although few records exist for this region. In the western Atlantic Ocean, its highest abundance is in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast of Florida, and the Caribbean Sea. In this region, distribution is apparently influenced by wind conditions as well as water temperature. In the northern and southern extremes of the its distribution, sailfish appear during warm seasons. These seasonal changes in distribution may be directly linked to prey movement. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, there is an aggregation off the coast of West Africa. In the Pacific Ocean, the sailfish is widely distributed in temperate and tropical regions. It resides in waters from 45° to 50° N to 35° S in the western Pacific and from 35° N to 35° S in the eastern Pacific. Sailfish are especially abundant off Papua New Guinea and the Philippines as well as from Tahiti to the Marquesas and off Hawaii. This species may also be found in the Indian Ocean to approximately 35-45° S latitude.


Florida Museum of Natural History

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