Black Marlin

(Cuvier, 1831); ISTIOPHORIDAE FAMILY; also called white marlin (Japan), silver marlin (Hawaii)

Occurs in the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans. In tropical areas distribution is scattered but continuous in open waters; denser in coastal areas and near islands. In temperate waters occurrence is rare. A few stray black marlin travel around the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic. Some have been known to cross the ocean from there, traveling in a southwesterly direction as far as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or in a northwesterly direction as far as the Atlantic coasts of the Lesser Antilles. Such excursions are, however, regarded as exceptional.

It can be quickly and positively identified since it is the only marlin that have rigid pectoral fins that cannot be folded flat up against the body without breaking the joints. It is also set apart by the airfoil shape of the pectoral fins and by its very short ventral fins, which almost never exceed 12 in (30 cm) in length, regardless of the size of the fish. The first dorsal fin is proportionately the lowest of any billfish, usually less than 50 percent of the body depth. The body is laterally compressed, rather than rounded; much more so than in similar sized blue marlin.

The body is slate blue dorsally, changing abruptly to silvery white below the lateral line. When feeding or leaping, the black marlin may display light blue vertical stripes on the sides (see striped marlin coloration). Slight variations in color cause some specimens to have a silvery haze over the body. In Hawaii this has led to the name “silver marlin” (once thought to be a separate species).

A highly rated game fish, the black marlin has the power, size, and persistence of which anglers dream. Its diet consists of squid and pelagic fishes. Fishing methods include trolling with large, whole baits (mackerel, bonito, flying fish, squid and others) or with artificial lures. Live bait is also effective.

Though there are some exceptions, giant black marlin are larger than giant blue marlin taken on rod and reel. This may be because large black marlin are more accessible and more often occur within the range of sportfishing vessels. Blue marlin, or any marlin, larger than 300 lb (136 kg) are almost always females. A 500 lb (226.7 kg) male is a rarity.

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