Mahi vs Ahi: The Key Differences

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 4, 2022
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Whenever an animal is found in different places around the world, they tend to have lots of different names. Among the two most commonly misused names for fish are the mahi and the ahi. Neither of these words has roots in English, although both are heavily used in the English culinary world. Today, we are going to explore the differences between the mahi vs the ahi and see why they are so often used!

Comparing a Mahi vs an Ahi

Mahi refers to dolphinfish and ahi refers to tuna.


Origin of the nameHawaiian name for dolphinfishHawaiian name for yellowfin and bigeye tuna
SizeLength: 2.5-4.5 feet
Weight: 15-30 lbs
Refers to two species of tuna of varying sizes.
Up to 400 lbs.
AppearanceLong-bodied with a thick, blunt head and thin tails. Dazzling colors of golden, blue, and green.Large, slender fish. Shades of yellow, silver, and blue.
DistributionTropical and subtropical waters worldwide.Both species are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters.
Culinary useUsed grilled, seared, and raw.Commercially caught. Used grilled, seared, and raw.

The Key Differences Between a Mahi and an Ahi

The key differences between a mahi and an ahi are origin of name, appearance, distribution, and culinary uses.

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To English speakers, the confusion between mahi, ahi, and tuna is quite prevalent. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to understand. Mahi is the Hawaiian word for the dolphinfish, a commonly eaten fish that lives in tropical waters around the world. Ahi is the Hawaiian word for tuna that live near the Hawaiian Islands; the yellowfin and the bigeye.

Mahi is also referred to as mahimahi, dolphinfish, and dorado. These amazing fish are highly sought as a sport fish and for food. They are well-known for the brilliant colorations they display when caught. Although they are eaten around the world, they are distinctly different fish than all species of tuna.

Ahi is also called yellowfin and bigeye. The name refers to two species of tuna that are found around the Hawaiian islands, although most English speakers refer to yellowfin tuna when they use the word. Both species are highly-sought for food, but the tuna is a very different fish from the dolphinfish.

Let’s explore some of the differences between the mahi and the ahi to learn what makes them unique.

Mahi vs Ahi: Origin of the Name

A Mahi Mahi swims in front of a boat
Mahis are also called dolphinfish because they often swim in front of boats.


Mahi, the shortened version of mahimahi, is a Hawaiian word that means “very strong.” Using the word twice to emphasize a trait is a linguistic practice known as reduplication (oh, you like like that girl, don’t you?) that cultures use worldwide. As a total coincidence, the Persian word for fish is also mahi, but it’s unrelated. The word “mahi” became more popular as a way to differentiate the dolphin (the mammal) from the dolphinfish (the fish). Dolphinfish got their name from leading boats as they sailed, similar to how dolphins do. Dorado (the Spanish name) gets its name from its golden color, as dorado means golden in Spanish.

Ahi is the Hawaiian word for tuna, and it encompasses two species: the yellowfin and the bigeye. Both species may be referred to as ahi, but most people mean yellowfin when they say it. The Polynesian Cultural Center notes that the name originates from the lines of the fishermen burning through friction against the boat when they would catch one of these massive fish. Ahi also means “fire” in Hawaiian, so when they would catch a tuna, people would shout “fire!”

Mahi vs Ahi: Size

Mahi vs Ahi
Ahis are significantly larger than mahis.

©Al McGlashan/

Mahis are large fish, although significantly smaller than both species of tuna that ahi refers to. An average mahi reaches 2.5-4.5 feet in length and weighs between 15-30 lbs. Larger fish have been caught, but these averages are by far the most common.

Ahis are some of the largest species of tuna around. Yellowfin tuna can grow to 440 lbs, and bigeye can grow to 460 lbs. Both of these tuna species are some of the largest of all tuna species, with only the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern bluefin being larger.

Mahi vs Ahi: Appearance

Mahi vs Ahi
Mahis are golden yellow and blue-green.


The Spanish word for the fish, Dorado, gives us all we need to know about these brilliant fish. They are flashy and bright and are known for their colors. Most mahis have a yellow-golden color across their bodies with a neon blue stripe across their backs. When caught, they change colors until their death, at which point they turn a dull yellow color. They are long fish with thick, blunt heads and slender bodies that taper towards their tail.

Both species of tuna are large fish with blue-silver bodies and a dark blue stripe across their spine. Yellowfin get their name from the yellow stripe that is often under the blue one and the yellow pigment found on all of their fins. The bigeye is much more muted in color and has larger eyes (hence the name) to hunt better in deeper water.

Mahi vs Ahi: Distribution

Mahi vs Ahi
Ahis are generally found a bit deeper.

©Shane Gross/

Mahis are tropical fish that can be found almost anywhere there is warm water. They are often caught around the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, Hawaii, and the Indian Ocean. These fast fish usually hunt prey right at the surface of the water and rarely head into deep waters. As surface dwellers, they don’t require special equipment to catch.

Both species of ahi tuna are found in temperate waters worldwide and participate in large-scale migrations. Yellowfin tunas prefer warmer, shallower water to hunt and live. Bigeye tunas are adapted to hunt in cold, deep water and generally reside in the deeper regions of the ocean. Their large eyes are an adaption to help them hunt prey where the water is darker.

Mahi vs Ahi: Culinary Use

Mahi is widely used as a food source, and the meat is known as high-quality. It is most often seared or grilled as a steak or fillet. Mahi has mild, non-fishy flesh that is known to be nutritious and sweet. It is used in some raw applications, but not as often as tuna.

Both species of tuna are widely used in a variety of applications. Yellowfin tuna is one of the most sought species of tuna and is used in steaks as well as sushi and nigiri. It has a high-fat content and quality flesh, making it the perfect tuna for consumers looking for an affordable alternative to bluefin. Bigeye is also highly-priced, although it’s not as common as yellowfin. It can be prepared as a steak or used in sushi, nigiri, or sashimi.

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A Mahi Mahi swims in front of a boat
Mahi Mahi are also called dophinfish because they often swim in front of boats
© FtLaud/

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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