Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw & Nodder 1792)

Other Names: Bayonet Fish, Bayonet-fish, Indo-Pacific Sailfish, Pacific Sailfish

A Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus, hunting sardines off the coast of Mexico. Source: Peter G. Allinson, M.D. / Marine Photobank. License: CC BY Attribution-Noncommercial


A very fast moving predator, found in oceanic waters, usually well offshore - thought to be the fastest swimming fish in the ocean. Feed on baitfish and squid. They herd baitfish into a ball and slash with their bill - then consume injured baitfish.

Identifying features:
Dorsal fin long-based and sail-like; bill very long and thin; sides with vertical bands made up of fine blue spots.

Watch 'Superfish' by the BBC Wildlife Unit.

Fabulous highspeed footage showing Sailfish using their bill to 'slash' schooling baitfish - sardines.

Sailfish hunting a school of baitfish in the Maldives.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & Schultz, S., Istiophorus platypterus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 27 May 2024,

Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw & Nodder 1792)

More Info


Common and widespread in the tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans, ranging into temperate waters. Sailfish have been recorded from all Australian states including Tasmania. 

Epipelagic usually in oceanic waters above the thermocline, and also found near continental coasts, islands and reefs.


Dorsal fin 42-49, 6-7; Anal fin 12-17, 6-7; Pectoral fin 18-20.

Body elongate, compressed; bill very long, narrow, rounded in cross-section; small file-like teeth in jaws; gill rakers absent. Caudal peduncle with a double keel.

First dorsal fin very tall, middle rays longest; origin of second dorsal behind origin of second anal fin. Pelvic fin very long, almost reaching anus, rays fused; caudal fin very forked.

Scales embedded in skin, with single or double point; scale number reduces with increasing size of fish.


To 350 cm and 100 kg.


Dark blue above, fading to white below; sides with scattered brown patches and bands comprised of blue spots on sides. First dorsal fin dark blue with small black spots. Anal fin bases silvery-white, pectoral and caudal fins dark brown or blue.


Carnivore - feeds mostly on fishes, crustaceans and cephalopods. Adults are highly opportunistic, feeding on a large range of prey species including sardines, anchovies and mackerels. Schools of sailfish hunt together, using the large dorsal fin to herd baitfishes into a ball before slashing their bill through the school to injure prey.


Spawning peaks occur in summer, but can occur throughout the year. Males and females pair off, or several males chase a single female. Spawned eggs are around 1.3 mm in diameter, with a single oil globule. Larvae occur near coral reefs in Queensland waters.


Although targeted in some areas, the species is mostly taken as bycatch by tuna longliners, but not as highly valued as marlin, and usually released. Considered a hard-fighting sport fish by recreational anglers.


IUCN Red List : Least Concern


One of the fastest swimming fish, capable of speeds up to 110 km/hr.

Species Citation

Xiphias platypterus Shaw 1792, The Naturalist's Miscellany: Pl. 88. Type locality: Indian Ocean.


Dianne J. Bray & Schultz, S.

Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw & Nodder 1792)


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37444005

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-200 m

Fishing:Popular gamefish

Habitat:Oceanic, epipelagic

Max Size:360 cm TL; 100 kg

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map