Striped Marlin (Tetrapturus audax)

Striped Marlin (Tetrapturus audax)

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.


The 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.


The 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/Behavior

The 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 habits

The 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 Names

striper, 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.


Found 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.