Linnaeus, 1758; XIPHIIDAE FAMILY; also called
Found worldwide in temperate and tropical oceanic and continental shelf
waters from the surface to depths of 400 500 fathoms or more. Except when
spawning, females prefer cool, deep waters near submarine canyons or coral
banks. Males prefer to remain in somewhat warmer waters.
Characteristically, it has a smooth, very broad, flattened sword (broadbill)
that is significantly longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish.
It also has a nonretractable dorsal fin, rigid, nonretractable pectoral
fins, and a single, but very large keel on either side of the caudal peduncle.
Adults lack scales and swordfish of all sizes lack ventral fins. The back
may be dark brown, bronze, dark metallic purple, grayish blue or black.
The sides may be dark like the back or dusky. The belly and lower sides
of the head are dirty white or light brown.
This pelagic, migratory species usually travels alone. It uses its sword
for defense and to kill or stun food such as squid, dolphin, mackerel,
bluefish and various other midwater and deep sea pelagic species. Occasional
attacks on boats have been authenticated by the recovery of swords found
broken off in wooden hulls. One swordfish attacked Alvin, the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institute submarine, at a depth of 330 fathoms and wedged
its sword so tightly into a seam that it could not be withdrawn.
Fishing methods include presenting trolling baits or deep drifting at
night with bait such as squid. They often bask on the surface with their
dorsal and tail fins protruding from the water, making them susceptible
to harpooners and longliners who make the majority of swordfish catches.
They are finicky, easily frightened by an approaching boat, and rarely
strike blindly. Usually the bait must be presented carefully and repeatedly
before the swordfish will take it. The soft mouth makes hookup uncertain
and the slashing bill can make short work of an angler's line or leader.
Squid is the most popular bait, though Spanish mackerel, eel, mullet, herring,
tuna and live or dead bonito are also used. To land a broadbill is considered
by many to be the highest achievement in angling.
Very large swordfish are always females. The males seldom exceed 200 lb
(90 kg). The meat of the swordfish is excellent eating, making this fish
the object of large commercial fisheries