Halfbeaks are closely related to flyingfish and needlefish. These sparkling, silvery fish travel in schools and are abundant in warm seas. They are important food fish for pelagic species, especially for billfish, and are used as rigged trolling bait for big-game fish encountered in blue water.
A halfbeak’s body is elongated, rounded, and flattened from side to side only in the tail region. The dorsal and the anal fins are located far to the rear and directly opposite each other. In halfbeaks, only the lower jaw is long; the upper jaw is of normal length. Halfbeaks commonly leap or scoot rapidly across the surface, with only their tail vibrating in the water.
The balao (Hemiramphus balao) ranges from New York to the Gulf of Mexico and southward to Brazil, including the Caribbean. It averages 8 to 10 inches in length and can grow to 16 inches. The ballyhoo (Hemiramphus brasiliensis) is common off the Florida coast and in the Caribbean, traveling northward along the eastern coast and occasionally as far north as Massachusetts in summer. It ranges as far south as Brazil, averages 6 to 10 inches in length, and is closely related to the longfin halfbeak (H. saltator) of the Pacific.
The halfbeak (Hyporhamphus unifasciatus), which attains 12 inches, lives in the same area of the Atlantic as the ballyhoo but occurs also in the Pacific from Point Conception southward to Peru, including the Galápagos Islands. The related California halfbeak (H. rosae) is smaller, rarely more than 6 inches long.
Included among the Pacific halfbeaks off the coast of North America is the ribbon halfbeak (Euleptorhamphus viridis), which grows to as much as 18 inches and has long pectoral fins, and the smaller flying halfbeak (E. velox), which ranges from the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil in the western Atlantic.