Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.





Florida Fish: Billfishes
Billfish are predatory fish that are distinguished by their long bill which may seem more suited for a bird than a fish. These marine fish are found off the coast of Florida and are cherished as a great sporting fish to catch. There are numerous types of bill fish found off the coast of Florida including the blue marlin, the longbill spearfish, the sailfish, and the lesser known white marlin.
 
Florida blue marlin saltwater fishBlue Marlin
(Makaira nigricans) Occurring offshore in blue oceanic waters, the blue marlin prefers to stay in the warm waters near the surface, above the thermocline. They follow the seasonal water temperature changes, being closely tied to these warm waters. Blue Marlin are found in ocean waters great distances from the continents as well as coastal regions near deep waters, such as near the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. The blue marlin is the largest billfish. The upper jaw forms a large bill. The body is cylindrical from anal fin forward. Two dorsal fins are present; the first dorsal fin is high and slopes steeply posteriorly, while the second is small. The caudal peduncle has keels. The lateral line forms a large net-like pattern of hexagons canvassing the sides of the fish. The pelvic fins are slender. The lateral keels on the caudal peduncle assist in making this fish a powerful swimmer of great speed and stamina. Grooves for the pelvic fins improve hydrodynamics. The blue marlin can reach a length of 14 feet (4.3 m) and a weight of one ton (910 kg). Females are generally much larger than males. Blue marlins prey on pelagic fishes including the dolphin, mackerels, and tunas. Predators of the blue marlin include the white shark. The blue marlin is an important game fish. Blue marlin are greatly coveted by sportsfishers and trophy hunters. The presence of this species in the waters offshore of a number of developing countries provides important economic benefit to such areas. The blue marlin's flesh is served raw and is a popular sushi fish in Japan, and is popular table fare in some Pacific islands such as Hawaii.

long bill spear fish Florida saltwater fishLongbill Spearfish (Tetrapturuspfluegeri)  Longbill Spearfish are similar to other billfish but can be readily identified by the fin that is similar to that of a marlin but is much higher throughout its length. That coupled with a long bill differentiates it from all of the marlins and the shortbill spearfish. The color of the longbill spearfish body is dark blue shading to a silvery color, with white underneath. It has two dorsal fins the first and main dorsal fin being long with a point at the front. This dorsal fin is usually blue in color. The second dorsal fin is much smaller and to the rear. The upper jaw is prolonged into a spear, its cross section round. Longbill Spearfish are found in offshore waters. They reach weights of 70 pounds. Longbill spearfish are short lived bill fish that feed in offshore waters near the surface where they dine on small fish and squid. Available data indicate that spearfish matures at 2 years of age and rarely lives past 4 to 5 years. This billfish is a lot smaller than the blue marlin and the white marlin.



sailfish, a Florida billfishSailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) Marathon, a well known Florida game and fish resort is also a popular area for the sailfish. Often found in the Atlantic close to the Gulf Stream the sailfish is easily identified by its large sail shaped front dorsal fin which is very large compared to similar fish such as white marlin or longbills. The large blue dorsal fin is a rich blue covered with black spots and is square and upright at the front end. The body of the sailfish is a deep blue on top with a blue/brown stripe along the center line of the body. The bottom half of the body is silver to white. Like the other Florida game and fish such as the blue marlin and white marlin the sailfish also has an extended upper jaw shaped like a spear. Florida marlin fishing boats located in the south of Florida near the Gulf Stream will often catch sailfish as they like to feed on or near the surface eating squid and other pelagic fish. They grow to 7 feet and are therefore considered a worthy trophy by Florida game and fish sportsmen. Generally speaking the larger catches are the females. The sailfish is a rapid swimmer and anyone who has gone to Florida marlin fishing will know when they have one of these on the end of the line as they can reach speeds of 40-50 knots! Spawning is thought to be in the warmer summer months in water that is fairly shallow, where mating males and females will swim side by side. Sometimes a group of 2 or 3 males will stalk a female. These little ones grow fast attaining a length of 48" to 60" in the first year of life.

white marlin, a Florida billfishWhite Marlin (Tetrapterus albidus) These exciting fish are the smallest of the billfishes with a maximum length of 110 inches and weighing in the region of 180 pounds. This beautiful fish has a long, compressed and fusiform body. Its top jaw is twice as long as its bottom jaw producing the bill which is round in cross section and compared to other billfish, soft. The body has a dense covering of bony scales. The lateral line runs straight along the body, with a single curve over the origin of the dorsal fin. This billfish is very similar to the blue marlin, and can be differentiated based on fin morphology. The white marlin has a rounded dorsal fin at the front end, a rounded tip on the pectoral and anal fins, and spots on the dorsal fin, while the blue marlin has pointed dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins and no spots on the dorsal fin. They are often associated with upwellings and weed lines, and frequent regions with benthic geographic features such as drop-offs, canyons, and shoals. White marlins do not tend to travel in schools, but are usually observed swimming alone or in pairs. White marlin appear to be sight-oriented, daytime feeders. An important prey item for white marlin is squid. Bony fishes, especially dolphins, blue runner, mackerels, flying fish, and bonito are also commonly eaten. Round herring, which are abundant along the central Atlantic coast, are commonly consumed in that region. When fishing for these fish they are normally found close to the surface and can often be seen tail-walking (only the top of the tail is seen above the surface). Ferocious when caught these fish will leap clean out of the water when trying to free themselves.
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