Like a cheetah that runs on land, the Sailfish bullets through the ocean at incredible speeds, making it the fastest wish to swim in Earth’s waters. It’s big, agile, and capable of bursting at extreme speeds to run past predators and catch prey in the blink of an eye. They can swim at speeds reaching a whopping 70mph (about 112 kph).



Appearance

Sailfish swimming in open water
Sailfish swimming in open water

They have a unique appearance which makes them easily identifiable. Their colors range from blue to gray with white underbellies. A dorsal fin stretches above them (almost as the same length as their body) like a sail, hence where they got their name from. Since sailfish belong to the family of billfish, they have an upper jaw that juts out like a sword similar to a swordfish

Their bodies are thick and long and can grow up to 10 feet.

Games

Sailfish are not fished as food, instead, they are caught for game fishing ( a type of sport between fishermen) for their incredible speed. When hooked, these beasts will fight vigorously – jumping, leaping, and diving repeatedly against the fishing lines. It takes hours, and is often difficult, to catch a sailfish.

Habitat

Groups of sailfish heading towards a small school of fish
Groups of sailfish heading towards a small school of fish

Sailfishes don’t live in coral reefs, coastal areas, or closed-off spaces. Instead, they live in the open ocean. They are found from the surface of the ocean till deep as light can reach, meaning they can be found on both surfaces and at the ocean’s depths. 

They live in warm tropical water and therefore are migratory. They move away from the equator in the summer and back towards tropical regions in the winter. 

Diet

Sailfish attacking a school of fish for its feeding time
Sailfish attacking a school of fish for its feeding time

Sailfishes are carnivores and prey on small fishes, octopuses, and squid. Some of its prey include anchovy, herring, mackerel, and more. Its predatory hunting style is unlike a typical predator. For catching food, sailfishes swim into a school of fish and use their long bill to pierce and kill their prey, which it consumes soon after. 

Reproduction

Female sailfishes use the dorsal fins to attract a male. Once she releases the eggs, the males then fertilize them outside of the body. A single female can lay up to a million eggs that hatch after two to three days. 

Predators

Because of their speed and size, sailfishes are only targeted by large ultra-predatory fish like sharks and orcas that are also fast swimmers. Sailfish babies are preyed on by fish that usually eats plankton.

Conservation Status

Although they are caught for game fishing, the population of sailfishes is considered stable and is not under any protection or endangered status.

Interesting Facts

A Sailfish jumping out of the water
A Sailfish jumping out of the water
  • Despite the name “sailfish” and their huge dorsal fin, sailfish usually swim with their dorsal fin folded against their body. They only use their “sails” when hunting to help reduce the speed which in turn reduces the movement of their head, helping them to catch their prey with their bill.
  • They have been in the ocean for 60 million years!
  • Sailfish are considered to be very intelligent and incredible predators. They also work as a team, cornering and driving schools of fish up against the surface of the ocean for easy feeding. 
  • They are one of the fishes that are at the top of the food chain.
  • Some sources indicate that sailfish are capable of changing colors according to their mood or for confusing their prey. 


FAQs

Are sailfish human-friendly?

No. Sailfish are extremely predatory and are not human-friendly. In fact, they fight violently when caught in fishing lines. 

Where do the sailfish live?

Sailfish can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. 

Is there a difference between a sailfish and a swordfish?

Yes, swordfishes are a lot bigger than sailfishes and can get bulkier too. Swordfishes are cylindrical and sailfishes are laterally compressed. Swordfishes also have very small dorsal fins, unlike the sailfish that have a huge sail-like fin. 

Are sailfish rare?

Sailfishes are fairly abundant and can be found in the open oceans in warm waters. They are also migratory and travel to tropical waters when the temperatures change according to the climate.