Sailfish are one of the fastest fish in the world, swimming over 60 MPH!
Sailfish Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Istiophorus platypterus
Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.
Sailfish Conservation Status
- fish and squid
- Name Of Young
- Juvenile or fry
- Group Behavior
- Fun Fact
- Sailfish are one of the fastest fish in the world, swimming over 60 MPH!
- Biggest Threat
- Sport fishing
- Average Spawn Size
- 5 million eggs per year
- Fast billfish with a sail-like dorsal fin
Sailfish Physical Characteristics
- Skin Type
- Top Speed
- 70 mph
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Sailfish are known for their elongated dorsal fins that resemble the sail of a ship. They are highly active and agile fish. Anglers often target them for their challenging and entertaining fights when caught. They are considered the fastest fish in the world, but they are close competitors with swordfish and marlins.
These fish live in various parts of the world’s oceans. They are one of the fastest swimmers among the billfish species.
5 Incredible Sailfish Facts
- With its elongated bill, a sailfish can expertly stab and capture its prey. Its sail-shaped dorsal fins allow it to glide through the ocean waters with ease and at high speeds.
- The sailfish’s reputation for speed is put to the test by swordfish and blue marlins.
- The size, unique physical characteristics, and natural beauty of the the fish make it a highly sought-after trophy catch for fishermen.
- Sailfish and marlins are related as they are part of the same billfish family, Istiophoridae.
- They also possess the ability to jump out of the water to impressive heights. These fish sometimes reach heights that are equivalent to their entire body length. That can be up to 10 feet or more.
The scientific name of sailfish is Istiophorus platypterus. They belong to the family Istiophoridae in the class Actinopterygii, also known as the ray-finned fish. The genus Istiophorus, which also includes the species Istiophorus albicans, is derived from Greek. It means “sail-bearer” in reference to the elongated dorsal fins of the fish.
Istiophorus Albicans refers to the Atlantic sailfish, while Istiophorus Platyperus refers to both the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific sailfish.
The sailfish can reach lengths of up to 134 inches (3.4 m) and heights of 13-20 inches (33-50.8 cm). With a streamlined body and fast swimming abilities, they can easily reach high speeds.
The sailfish’s body has striking coloration. It can range from dark blue with subtle hints of brown to a light blue hue on the ventral side. These fish possess a strong resemblance to other billfish species. However, adorning the frontal side of their bodies are 20 light blue, dotted stripes.
Its elongated bill, which can reach a length of up to 12 inches (30 cm), and its teeth, which are sharp and pointed, also distinguish the this fish from others.
Another defining characteristic of theirs is their impressive dorsal fin. This fin runs along their back, resembling the shape of a sail. The dorsal fin typically has 42-49 rays. Further, it is significantly larger than their second dorsal fin, which holds six or seven rays. This combination of large and small dorsal fins makes these fish uniquely identifiable in the ocean.
Sailfish are also famous for their elongated and curved pectoral fins. Those fins have 18-20 rays, which aid them in their fast swimming capability. Their pelvic fins are also noteworthy and are typically 3.9 inches (10 cm) in length.
Evolution And History
Sailfish have been inhabiting the ocean for millions of years, with evidence suggesting that they existed during the Paleogene period, around 60 million years ago. The first scientific description of the Atlantic sailfish was in 1792.
The Pacific or Indo-Pacific sailfish is the only other species recognized by some scientists. However, there are debates about whether these two species are distinct.
The evolutionary history of sailfish is not entirely understood. They are believed to have evolved from an ancestor shared with other billfish, such as blue and white marlins.
Like many other fish species, they generally prefer to live alone, but they will join together in groups, known as schools, when hunting for food or during mating season. However, it is very rare to see more than just a few this fish in a group.
Male sailfish have a competitive nature when seeking a mate. With that, they engage in intense races as they chase the female, showing their strength and speed to win her affection. These males also contend with other suitors fiercely.
Sailfish live in the warm, temperate waters of various oceans, often residing in areas where the water is shallow and sunlit.
However, these fishes like to venture deeper in search of food, with depths of up to 1,150 ft (350 m) reported. They tend to stay away from the coastlines, preferring the open waters of the ocean.
They move to different areas to follow the seasonal changes in water temperature and prey availability. Adult sailfish typically migrate to warmer waters during the winter. Their migration patterns may vary from region to region; some sailfish can migrate hundreds of miles to the equator during certain seasons, while others may only move short distances.
Sailfish use their bill to stun or stab their prey before consuming them. They also slash their prey with their bills, which can stun or kill the small fish or squid, making them easier to consume.
What Eats Sailfish?
When first born, sailfish are vulnerable to being preyed upon by other fish species that primarily feed on plankton. However, as they grow larger, the sailfish encounter larger predators, such as sharks and orca and dolphinfish, with adult sailfish only falling prey to larger predatory fish species that inhabit the open ocean. They hold their own against predators as they are extremely fast and can use their bill to defend themselves.
What Do Sailfish Eat?
Sailfish have a diverse diet that includes squid, octopuses, anchovies, and sardines. They also prey on smaller fish, using their bills to strike and kill their prey.
Sailfish Predators And Threats
Sailfish, being apex predators, typically face few dangers in the ocean. However, young individuals can fall prey to larger creatures. On the other hand, human activity and fishing pose a significant threat to sailfish populations. Climate change, caused by human activities, can also harm them.
The primary threat from humans to sailfish is from sports fishing. Humans hunt them for sport and then often discard them.
Though larger fish may occasionally prey on sailfish, cookie-cutter sharks, which eat chunks out of larger animals, also prey on them. Additionally, sailfish are sometimes caught as bycatch in commercial fishing nets. This also poses a significant threat to the their population.
Sailfish have been classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Typically, a species considered vulnerable is in danger of going extinct in the near future due to various threats and factors.
Spawning, or reproduction, of this fish occurs primarily during the warmer months along the coastlines of North America and West Africa. However, studies have shown that sailfish in the Atlantic Ocean may engage in year-round spawning, indicating variations in their reproductive patterns depending on the region.
They reproduce through a fascinating process of external fertilization, where both the females and males release their eggs and sperm into the ocean simultaneously. The females are capable of releasing an incredible number of eggs during a single event, with an approximate number of 5 million eggs per year. However, only a small percentage of the eggs survive.
These eggs then hatch around 60-70 hours after fertilization, which marks the start of a new generation.
A young sailfish can be referred to as either a “juvenile” or a “fry”. Their life journey begins as soon as they hatch from eggs when they measure less than half an inch. But this tiny size is only temporary, as they will grow rapidly and reach lengths of over four feet within the first half of their first year of life.
Sailfish have a lifespan of around 13 to 15 years in the wild. However, the lifespan of sailfish caught and released by sport fishermen is significantly reduced. They have an average lifespan of only four to five years.
The stress and injury caused by the catch-and-release process attribute to this decline in lifespan. Sailfish that go through that may suffer from barotrauma. This condition is caused by the rapid change in pressure that occurs when fish are brought to the surface. It can cause damage to the fish’s swim bladder and other internal organs, leading to reduced growth and reproductive success.
In addition to barotrauma, individuals that are caught and released may also suffer from physical injuries such as broken jaws and fins, as well as stress-induced diseases. These factors can all contribute to a reduced lifespan for them.
The exact population of this fish is uncertain. However, their numbers are declining due to a variety of reasons and threats. The classification of vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights that this species is at risk of extinction.
Sailfish in Cooking
People don’t frequently consume them as a food source, though they are technically edible. The meat can be quite tough and chewy, which makes it less desirable to many.
- Swordfish: This is another fish species that is considered one of the fastest in the ocean! The swordfish also features a long bill that is similar to that of the sailfish!
- Black Marlin: Marlin species are often compared to sailfish, and these two types of fish are often pitted against each other as the fastest fish in the ocean!
- Dolphin: Dolphins are also known to leap out of the water, just like sailfish!
Sailfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the largest sailfish ever caught?
The record for the largest sailfish ever caught stands at an impressive 11.2 feet in length with a weight of 220.5 pounds.
How do sailfish communicate?
Sailfish use various methods to communicate with one another. One of the most common is by altering their colors, which is known as flashing, and another way is by moving their dorsal fins.
Are sailfish intelligent?
Sailfish are quite intelligent fish, often teaming up together to work as a team to hunt schools of smaller fish.
Is sailfish the fastest fish?
According to most sources, the Indo-Pacific sailfish is the fastest fish species in the world! They are known to swim up to 68 mph.
Are marlins bigger than sailfish?
Blue marlins can grow bigger than sailfish. While sailfish grow up to 10 feet long, blue marlins can grow up to 12 feet.
What makes a sailfish so fast?
The reason a sailfish can swim so fast is likely due to how it is built. The sailfish’s giant dorsal fin makes it incredibly hydrodynamic, allowing it to swim as fast as a cheetah can run on land!
Are sailfish rare?
The exact number of sailfish in the oceans is unknown, but the population is not too threatened as of yet! However, the sailfish population is considered vulnerable, so while not rare, this species of fish may need to be protected in the future!
Are sailfish omnivores, carnivores, or herbivores?
Sailfish primarily eat meat, so they are carnivores.
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- In the Bite, Available here: https://www.inthebite.com/2014/10/insight-into-sailfish-migration/
- Marine Bio, Available here: https://www.marinebio.org/species/sailfishes/istiophorus-albicans/
- Oceana, Available here: https://oceana.org/marine-life/sailfish/
- ThoughtCo., Available here: https://www.thoughtco.com/worlds-fastest-fish-2291602
- Fishing Booker, Available here: https://fishingbooker.com/blog/sailfish-vs-swordfish-all-you-need-to-know/#:~:text=Sailfish%2C%20too%2C%20are%20mostly%20solitary,%2Dup%E2%80%9D%20to%20hunt%20together