Widely distributed in the Paciﬁc Ocean, the striped marlin is the most prevalent marlin in the Istiophoridae family of billﬁsh and a prized angling catch. It is well known for its ﬁghting ability and has the reputation of spending more time in the air than in the water when hooked; lacking the overall size and weight of the blue marlin or the black marlin, it is more acrobatically inclined.
In addition to making long runs and tail-walking, it will “greyhound” across the surface, performing up to a dozen or more long, graceful leaps. It is caught fairly close to shore in appropriate waters.
The striped marlin has red meat and is the object of extensive commercial ﬁshing efforts, primarily by longlining. Many people throughout its Indo-Pacific range hold its ﬂesh in high esteem, and it is rated best among billfish for sashimi and sushi preparations. Heavy fishing pressure has resulted in reduced stocks, however, as is true of all billﬁsh.
IdentificationThe body of the striped marlin is elongate and compressed, and its upper jaw is extended in the form of a spear. The color is dark or steely blue above and becomes bluish-silver and white below a clearly visible and straight lateral line. Numerous iridescent blue spots grace the ﬁns, and pale blue or lavender vertical stripes appear on the sides. These may or may not be prominent, but they are normally more prominent than those of other marlin. The stripes persist after death, which is not always true with other marlin.
The most distinguishing characteristic is a high, pointed first dorsal fin, which normally equals or exceeds the greatest body depth. Even in the largest specimens, this ﬁn is at least equal to 90 percent of the body depth. Like the dorsal ﬁn, the anal and the pectoral ﬁns are pointed. They are also ﬂat and movable and can easily be folded ﬂush against the sides, even after death.
The striped marlin has scales, ﬁns on the belly, and a rounded spear, which set it apart from the swordﬁsh, which has no scales or ventral ﬁns and a ﬂat bill; from the sailﬁsh, which has an extremely high dorsal fin; and from a spearﬁsh, which has neither the long spear on the upper jaw nor the body weight of the larger marlin.
SizeThe largest striped marlin on record is a 494-pound ﬁsh caught in New Zealand in 1986; in the United States the largest known is a 339-pound California ﬁsh. They are common from under 100 pounds to roughly 200 pounds.
Life history/BehaviorThe life history of this species is poorly known. Striped marlin are found in the warm blue water of offshore environs, usually above the thermocline. They are mostly solitary but may form schools by size during the spawning season. They are usually present where there is plenty of forage.
Food and feeding habitsThe striped marlin is highly predatory, feeding extensively on pilchards, anchovies, mackerel, sauries, ﬂyingﬁsh, squid, and whatever is abundant. The spear of the marlin is sometimes used for defense and as an aid in capturing food.
Wooden boats frequently have been rammed by billﬁsh, and in one instance the spear penetrated 18.5 inches of hardwood, 14.5 inches of which was oak. When it uses its bill in capturing food, the striped marlin sometimes stuns its prey by slashing sideways with the spear, rather than impaling its victim, as some believe.
Other Namesstriper, marlin, Paciﬁc marlin, Paciﬁc striped marlin, barred marlin, spikeﬁsh, spearﬁsh, New Zealand marlin, red marlin (Japan); Arabic: kheil al bahar; French: empéreur; Hawaiian: a’u, nairagi; Japanese: makajiki; Portuguese: espadim raiado; Spanish: agujón, marlín, marlin rayado, pez aguja.
Distribution/HabitatFound in tropical and warm temperate waters of the Indian and the Paciﬁc Oceans, the striped marlin is pelagic and seasonally migratory, moving toward the equator during the cold season and away again during the warm season. In the eastern Paciﬁc, the striped marlin ranges as far north as Oregon but is most common south of Point Conception, California. It usually appears off California in July and remains until late October.
The best California ﬁshing locality is in a belt of water that extends from the east end of Santa Catalina Island offshore to San Clemente Island and southward in the direction of the Los Coronados Islands. The waters around the Baja Peninsula, Mexico, are especially known for striped marlin, which are particularly abundant off Cabo San Lucas.