Marlin Science | Marlin Structure and Function | Common and Scientific names of Marlins and Billfishes | Characteristics of Billfish Anglers

Common and Scientific names of Marlins and Billfishes

by Peter S. Davie

All of the billfishes are bony fishes (members of the subclass Teleostei) of the order Perciformes, suborder Xiphioid. They belong to either the family Xiphiidae which has but one species, the broadbill swordfish (Xiphias Gladius) or the family Istiophoridae.

The family Istiophoridae is comprised of three genera:

  • Istiophorus, the sailfishes,
  • Tetrapturus, the spearfishes and striped and white marlin, and
  • Makaira, the blue and black marlins.

Billfishes are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the oceans mentioned. The following list is not in phylogenetic order.

Common name Genus Species Distribution
White marlin Tetrapturus albidus Atlantic Ocean
Striped marlin Tetrapturus audax Indo-Pacific Ocean
Blue marlin * Makaira nigricans World wide
Black marlin Makaira indica Indo-Pacific Ocean
Broadbill swordfish Xiphias gladius World wide
Indo-Pacific sailfish Istiophorus platypterus Indo-Pacific Ocean
Atlantic sailfish Istiophorus albidus Atlantic Ocean
Shortbill spearfish Tetrapturus angustirostris Indo-Pacific Ocean
Mediteranean spearfish Tetrapturus belone Mediteranean Sea
Longbill spearfish Tetrapturus pfluegeri Atlantic Ocean
Roundscale spearfish Tetrapturus georgei Mediteranean Sea and
adjacent Atlantic Ocean

*According to Nakamura (1983), there are two species of blue marlin. This is not widely accepted, and Davie treats all information on blue marlin as pertaining to one species, Makaira nigricans.

For completeness however, Nakamura's two blue marlin species are presented:

Common name Genus Species Distribution
Atlantic Blue marlin Makaira nigricans Atlantic Ocean
Indo-Pacific Blue marlin Makaira mazara Indo-Pacific Ocean

Diagnostic features for separating Pacific marlin species, striped, blue and black marlin, are briefly described below:

Striped marlin: Height of first dorsal fin as high as, or higher than maximum body depth; blue and black marlin first dorsal fin height less than maximum body depth. Twelve precaudal and 12 caudal vertebrae: blue and black marlin have 11 precaudal and 13 caudal vertebrae. Body laterally compressed: blue and black marlin have rounded bodies.

Blue marlin: Pectoral fin may be retracted (adducted) against body; black marlin have rigid pectoral fins. Looped (Indo-Pacific) or hexagonal (Atlantic) lateral line pattern; black and striped marlin have simple (single) lateral line.

Black marlin: Pectoral fin non-adductable. Insertion of second dorsal fin is cranial of the insertion of the second anal fin; blue and striped marlin second dorsal fin more caudal than second anal fin.