The Pointiest Fish in the Sea

Subhead Biologists Still Don't Know For Sure How It Uses Its Bill

by Cristian Cruz, age 11

Many tales are told about ships at sea being attacked by swordfish. A 19th century British warship sprung a leak after a swordfish made a 22-inch hole in its wooden hull. A piece of this ship is displayed today in the British Museum of Natural History.

Swordfish cover large areas of water, reaching speeds up to 62 mph, in search of prey that they will inevitably spear and slash to death. The swordfish’s spear-shaped bill can grow up to 5 feet long, a third of the adult’s total length.

Biologists still don’t know for sure how the swordfish uses its bill. According to one hypothesis, it uses the bill like a weapon to defend itself and to capture prey. One strategy the swordfish could use to get its prey is blasting its sword headlong into a group of fish. Most of the group flees the scene, leaving only those fish that were injured by the sword. The killer can gobble up a greater number of prey, which are mostly fish and squid.

Shiny and smooth, the swordfish’s cylindrical shape, spear, and almost scaleless skin all work together to reduce water resistance. For camouflage, it has a deep blue back and paler underbelly. The swordfish can be between 7 to 16 feet long, and it lives up to 25 years.

Interestingly, young swordfish have teeth, which fall out as they age. The toothless adults eat their prey whole, but young swordfish need teeth to defend themselves.

It is no wonder that these incredible fish are legendary.

[Source: Sharks and Other Creatures of the Deep]