A-z - Animals

Sailfish vs. Swordfish: Five Key Differences Explained

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key point:

  • While both sailfish and sailfish possess the long bill of a billfish, sailfish are much heavier, have a flattened beak, and are blue and silver in color. Of the two, only the sailfish has the famously long dorsal fin, scales, teeth, and color-changing chromatophores.
  • Swordfish generally prefer to be alone and will maintain plenty of personal space when swimming together. Sailfish usually swim in schools organized by age.
  • Protective organs that protect the brain and eyes allow sailfish to swim in colder conditions than sailfish.

Sailfish and swordfish are both examples of billfish, or fish with beaks that have been elongated into spears or pikes. To the casual observer, swordfish and swordfish look alike, both prized game and tasty. Females of both species lay millions of eggs when they spawn. However, there are significant differences between the two.

For one thing, the two fish belong to different families and are not as closely related as some might think. The swordfish belongs to the swordfish family and is its only member. Sailfish are part of the Istiophoridae family, related to marlin and spearfish. Want to learn more about sailfish and sailfish?

Read on to discover other differences between these two magnificent animals.

Swordfish vs Sailfish Comparison

Here is a table that can help show the difference between sailfish and swordfish.

swordfish swordfish
length 9.8 to 10.9 feet 10 to 15 feet
weight 200 lbs or less over 1000 lbs
speed 68 miles per hour 60 miles per hour
sail Yes No
species one maybe two
teeth Yes Tooth loss in adulthood
life 13 to 15 years old as long as 16 years old
sexual dimorphism Gender similar females are larger than males
pelvis Yes No

Five Key Differences Between Swordfish and Sailfish

1. Swordfish vs Sailfish: Size

Interestingly, sailfish are not much shorter in length than swordfish, but tend to be much lighter in weight. Sailfish rarely weigh more than 200 pounds, but the heaviest sailfish caught weighed nearly 1,200 pounds. Both fish are compressed into a torpedo shape and are two of the fastest swimmers in the ocean. However, sailfish don't have the sailfish's signature sail, it's just a long, retractable dorsal fin that extends most of the length of the animal's back.

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The first dorsal fin of swordfish is close to the head and is large and curved, while the second dorsal fin is much smaller and is closer to the tail. The first pair of pectoral fins are about as long as the first dorsal fin. This fish has no pelvic fins, but has a keel on the stem of the tail. The caudal fin is crescent-shaped with very long lobes. Adults lack scales and teeth.

Unlike swordfish, swordfish have teeth, scales and a very long rod-shaped pelvic fin, although older adults may not have scales. When the fish wants to swim fast, it presses the backsail into the groove on the back. As for the sail itself, it has 42 to 49 rays, with the middle rays being longer than the depth of the fish. Swordfish also have a much smaller second dorsal fin.

There are two keels at the base of the tail. Like the sailfish, the tail is half-moon shaped with long leaves. This fish also appears to be left-handed or right-handed when using its beak. Some fish lean to the left and some to the right, which seems to be advantageous when sailfish are feeding in schools.

The bill of swordfish is round and pointed while that of swordfish is flat.

2. Swordfish vs Sailfish: Habitat

While swordfish and sailfish both live in the warm waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, swordfish have a wider range and can swim in cooler waters. They can swim in water as cold as 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and have an organ near their eyes that keeps their brain and eyes warm in such frigid water.

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Sailfish, on the other hand, tend to prefer warmer or more temperate waters. They, like swordfish, will swim to open water on their own, not caring about being close to shore or the bottom of the ocean. Sailfish usually stay close enough to the surface where light can penetrate. This is known as the pelagic belt.

3. Swordfish vs Sailfish: Group

Swordfish tend to be solitary and when swimming together they will make sure to keep their distance. Sailfish are more likely to swim in schools. When the fish are young, arrange the fish schools according to the size of the fish. Adults swim in smaller groups. Their waving beaks can injure prey, making it easier for members of the hunting party to catch and eat them.

4. Swordfish vs Sailfish: Pigmentation and Pigment Cells

Sailfish are dark blue on top and silvery below, and adults have gold spots arranged vertically along their sides. They have chromatophores in their skin, which allow them to change or flash colors to some degree. They mainly do this during the breeding season. Females also spread their sail fins to attract males.

Swordfish are gray, brown, or black above and gray or sometimes yellow below.

5. Swordfish vs Sailfish: Names

Not only do swordfish and sailfish not belong to the same species, but they also don't belong to the same genus, or even the same family. The scientific name of the Indian sailfish is Istiophorus platypterus . Istiophorus comes from the Greek istios , meaning "sail," and pherein , "to carry." Platypterus means "flat or broad wings or feathers". Another subspecies of sailfish, the Atlantic sailfish, is Istiophorus albicans . The nickname here is Latin and means "white".

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The scientific name for swordfish is Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) . Xiphias comes from the Greek word for "sword" and gladius comes from the Latin word for "sword".

next…

Continue to build your marine animal knowledge with these lists of some of the most fascinating underwater creatures.

  • How did the whale die? 7 Common Causes of Whale Death—From predators to pollution to ship strikes, learn about the biggest threats these large marine mammals face.
  • Discover the 10 most endangered shark species in the world! – Learn about these ten endangered and unique marine predators, such as the tropical sand tiger shark or the speedy Atlantic thresher shark.
  • Top 10 Fastest Fish in the Ocean – Swordfish and Sailfish are on this list! See how they stack up against eight of the other fastest creatures in the ocean.

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swordfish vs swordfish
Swordfish vs Swordfish

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about the author

heather hall


I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the difference between sailfish and swordfish?

The main difference between sailfish and sailfish is that the first dorsal fin of sailfish is very large, forming a kind of sail on the back of the animal. Not only that, but it can also be stowed away as the sailfish swims. The raised sails are thought to keep the head steady while the fish hunts. Although swordfish are only slightly shorter than swordfish, swordfish weigh more than five times as much. Sailfish swim in schools while swordfish tend to live alone. Swordfish have ventral fins and retain their teeth, but sailfish do not have ventral fins and lose their teeth and scales as adults.

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