Sailfish take their name from the large dorsal fin that stretches almost the full length of their bodies. While their sail-like fins are impressive, as is the fight they're known for putting up when they encounter fishermen, the sailfish's real claim to fame is that it's the fastest swimmer in the ocean: these fish reach up to 68 miles per hour. Sailfish are abundant and not considered endangered or under any protections for conservation purposes.
Sailfish are saltwater fish residing in warm and temperate ocean waters. Two main subspecies exist: the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific sailfish. (The Atlantic species is Florida's official state saltwater fish.) These fish prefer waters ranging from 70 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit and usually stick relatively close to the surface of the water. Though they mostly dwell far out from land, sailfish sometimes venture closer to shore than other members of the billfish family.
Sailfish range in color from dark blue to gray, with a silver or white underbelly. As a type of billfish, sailfish have an elongated upper jaw that's approximately twice as long as the lower jaw, forming a spear. Their dorsal fins resemble sails not only because they run almost the full length of their bodies, but also because their height is considerably greater than the thickness of their bodies. They also have a second, smaller dorsal fin and two anal fins. Fins are typically a blackish-blue color. Indo-Pacific sailfish can reach 11 feet in length and weigh more than 220 pounds. Atlantic sailfish are smaller, typically around 6 feet long but topping out at 10 feet long and about 128 pounds.
Prey and Predators
Both subspecies of sailfish prey mostly on octopus, squid and bony fish. In the Atlantic, fish commonly eaten include tuna, mackerel, needlefish, jacks and halfbeaks; in the Pacific, jacks, anchovies, sardines, triggerfish and ribbonfish are dietary staples. Dolphinfish, also known as mahi-mahi, are a primary predator that feeds on sailfish. Larger predatory fish and some seabirds also eat sailfish. Humans also fish for sailfish, but not often for food; their meat is tough and generally considered undesirable. However, because sailfish are so large and put up such a fight—often taking hours to land—recreational and trophy fishermen seek them out.
Sailfish begin spawning in April, but most of this activity goes on during summer months. Most spawning occurs close to land, the females swimming there slowly with their dorsal fins sticking up above the surface of the water, and one or more males following. A large female can release over 4 million eggs when spawning. Larvae are about 0.125 inches long when they hatch. Within a year sailfish grow to about 4 to 5 feet long.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.