Marlins and Swordfish: What’s the Difference?

I thought I’d try something different today than the usual fish identification post.

Instead, we’re going to talk about telling the difference between two fish: the marlin and the swordfish. You’re not likely to run across either of these fish on a scuba trip, but they are commonplace on television (fishing shows, woohoo!) and on our dinner plates. For those that already know the difference, I congratulate you. The rest of us should read on.

First things first, both fish are members of the billfish family. Billfish encompass fish that have sword-like bills. This basically means marlins, swordfish, and sailfish.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. A sailfish can be recognized by the large dorsal fin that looks like a sail that has accordion pleats. That’s the first test. If the top of the fish has a sail, it’s a sailfish. Done. For fun, let’s look at a picture. Oooh, pretty.

Marlins have a single dorsal fin that connects along the fish’s back to a short, soft-looking ridge. Swordfish, on the other hand, have a dorsal fin more like a shark, and even extends far up, looking somewhat like a feather.

Here is a picture of a marlin:

Compare that to this picture of a swordfish. Notice also that swordfish have pectoral fins that extend below its body, whereas a marlin’s pectoral fins are small and barely visible.

If you can’t get a good look at the fins, you may have to rely on body shape to tell the difference. Marlins have a long, tubular body that varies only a little in size along its length. A swordfish, while still elongated, has a more rounded body.

Check out the two pictures below. From what you’ve learned, which is a swordfish, and which is a marlin? Hover your mouse pointer over the image to see the answer.

Once you know a few differences, I think it’s easy to tell the difference between marlins and swordfish. Even if you get them confused with each other, I doubt anyone will think you’re stupid. As long as you don’t call one of them a sailfish. :)

43 Responses to “Marlins and Swordfish: What’s the Difference?”

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  3. Another day, another parade… « View From Casita Colibrí Says:

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  4. Julian Says:

    You made a mistake tapfish swordfish are marlins liar!

  5. Tony Says:

    Oh hey julian sierra! You go on tapfish cool!

  6. Yauming Says:

    Hi. I got lucky and swam with a Marlin or swordfish? at Layang Layang, Sabah – for a couple of minutes, I took photos of the beast but I can’t be certain whether its a Marlin or swordfish. Can I email you the photos?

  7. Nicole Says:

    Good info! However, you forgot to mention one very particular distinction between the two fish; the Marlin has very noticable vertical stripes along the body, whereas the Swordfish does not. Everytime I’ve seen a Marlin, there are stripes on it. Contrary, everytime I’ve seen a Swordsfish, there were none. Also, you are more likely to find Swordfish on the menu of a restaurant than a Marlin. It’s just not as common. Marlin are normally used more as sport fishing and a thrown back after being unhooked vs the Swordfish is normally, well, not so much :)

  8. chrissy from NJ Says:

    Nicole, not every Marlin has stripes on it. Obviously the striped Marlin does, but the black Marlin & blue Marlin don’t. And also, in the last 5 or 6 years, alot of fish markets have been selling blue Marlin. I have eaten it twice, & it is very delicious. Actually if you like Swordfish, you’ll really like blue Marlin. We think it’s better.

  9. Swordplay | English! Says:

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  10. Millan M Says:

    Very Interesting all of you have been very helpful,I’m ready for swordfishing. Let go fishing.

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  42. Ziah Says:

    Well I feel kind of dumb now. I thought they were the same but their not. Same family..not the same fish. I was looking to see if either of these guys are tasty. I know fishermen catch them for sport, but was not sure if they were edible. Great article and cool photo of the Sailfish ;)

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