[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 894.]
The salient feature of the swordfish is the prolongation of its upper jaw into a long, flattened, sharp-edged and pointed "sword" occupying nearly one-third the total length of the fish. This sword is of itself enough to identify [page 352] the fish at a glance among all our northern fishes. On a fish 10 feet 10 inches long, which we harpooned on Georges Bank on the Grampus in July 1916, the sword was 42 inches long from its tip to the eyes.
The swordfish is moderately stout of body, only slightly flattened sidewise, deepest just behind the gill openings, and tapering rearward to a slender caudal peduncle, which bears a single strong longitudinal keel on either side. Apart from the sword the head is short; the lower jaw is pointed, and the mouth so wide that it gapes far back of the very large eyes, which are set close to the base of the sword. Swordfish (except young fry) are both toothless and scaleless. The first dorsal fin originates over the upper angle of the gill openings and is much higher than long (about 39 to 40 rays), with deeply concave rear margin. The second dorsal is very small and set far back on the caudal peduncle. There are two anals likewise. The second is as small as the second dorsal and located below the latter, while the first is similar to the first dorsal in outline but shorter, and located well behind it, close to the second anal. The pectorals are narrow, very long, scythe shaped, and set very low down on the sides below the first dorsal. The caudal fin is short, but as broad as half the length of the fish from top of lower jaw to base of caudal fin, with deeply lunate margin and pointed tips. There are no ventral fins.
While all swordfish are dark above and whitish with silvery sheen below, the upper surface varies from purplish to a dull leaden blue or even to black. The eye has been described as blue. Very young swordfish, like very young tuna, are transversely barred, but none small enough to show this pattern has ever been found within the limits of the Gulf. The colors fade soon after death.
Swordfish grow to a great size. The heaviest definitely recorded from the Gulf of Maine was one caught on Georges Bank in the summer of 1921 by Capt. Irving King and landed at the Boston Fish Pier, that weighed 915 pounds dressed, hence, upwards of 1,100 pounds alive. This specimen was not measured, but the sword was more than 5 feet long, so that the total length of the fish must have approximated 15 feet, and 16 feet seems to be about the maximum length, though fish as long as this are very unusual. The heaviest landed in Massachusetts during 1922 weighed 637 pounds dressed; that is, upward of 750 pounds live weight, while the largest taken in 1931 weighed 644 pounds dressed and was 13 feet long including its sword, which measured 44 inches. One that weighed 925 pounds before it was dressed was landed in 1932; also one weighing 650 pounds dressed, which must have weighed 800 pounds alive; while one of 850 pounds (dressed?), brought in to Halifax, Nova Scotia, was said to have been the largest ever landed in that port. And several, weighing more than 500 pounds, dressed, are reported almost every year.
But the general run are much smaller. Thus the average dressed weights of sundry fares of fish landed in Portland, Boston, and Gloucester in the years 1883-1884, and 1893-1895 were between 200 pounds and 310 pounds, falling to 114-186 pounds for the years 1917, 1919, 1926, and 1929-1930. And general report has it that Block Island fish run smaller than Georges Bank and Cape Breton fish. A 7-foot fish weighs about 120 pounds; 10 to 11-foot fish about 250 pounds; fish of 13 to 13½ feet, about 600 to 700 pounds, as taken from the water.
The rod and reel record is 860 pounds, for one 13 feet 9 inches long caught off Tocapila, Chile, April 28, 1940, by W. E. S. Tuker.
Swordfish fry are quite different in appearance from their parents, having only one long dorsal fin and one long anal fin, a rounded tail, both jaws equally prolonged and toothed, and the skin covered with rough spiny plates and scales. But fish of half a pound weight such as are caught in abundance in the Mediterranean already resemble the adults, except that they have minute scales until 30 inches long.
The swordfish is oceanic, not dependent in any way either on the coast (except as this offers a supply of food), or on the bottom; and it is a warm-water fish, most plentiful in localities and at depths where the temperature is higher than about 60°. But occasional captures [page 353] of swordfish on halibut lines set near bottom as deep as 200 fathoms, together with the fact that swordfish are by no means rare on the Newfoundland Banks, whence several fish were brought back by the American cod fleet in 1920, proves that temperatures as low as 50° to 55° do not bar it, at least for a brief stay.
Although swordfish may gather in certain localities they do not school, but are always seen scattered, either singly or at most two fish swimming together. Earlier published accounts, statements by fishermen, and our own rather limited experience all agree on this point. On calm days they often lie quiet on the surface, or loaf along with both the high first dorsal fin and the tip of the caudal fin above water, and they are easily harpooned while so employed, often allowing a vessel to approach until the pulpit projecting from her bow comes directly above the fish. When a swordfish is swimming at the surface, its first dorsal fin and the upper part of its tail fin both show above the water whereas a marlin shows its caudal only. One can tell a surfacing swordfish from a shark by its sharp-pointed dorsal (that of a shark is more broadly triangular) and by the fact that its tail fin seems to cut the water in a direct line, not wobbling from side to side as the tips of the tails of most sharks do (other than the mackerel shark tribe), if they show above the water at all.
When swordfish are at the surface, they jump a good deal, perhaps in vain attempts to shake off the remoras that so often cling to them. We saw one leap clear of the water four or five times in rapid succession close to the Grampus, off Shelburne, Nova Scotia, on July 28, 1914. Reports by fishermen, and our own experience, are to the effect that they surface only during the hours of daylight.
The swordfish is a fish-eater. During its stay in American waters it feeds on mackerel, menhaden, bluefish, silver hake, butterfish, herring, argentines, rattails (Macrourus bairdii), and indeed on any smaller fish, buckets of which have been taken from swordfish stomachs. Squid, too, are often found in them and may be their chief diet at times. And the jaws of one of the giant squids (genus perhaps Architeuthis), taken from the stomach of a swordfish harpooned on the northern edge of Georges Bank was an especially interesting find. One that we examined on Georges Bank, July 24, 1916, was full of silver hake, one taken there in August 1929 contained 5 large haddock (p. 199), while another harpooned off Halifax contained a squid (Ilex) and fragments of silver hake. They have often been described as rising through schools of mackerel, menhaden, and other fishes, striking right and left with their swords, then turning to gobble the dead or mangled fish. And we have seen them so employed on more than one occasion, to judge from the commotion.
It is not unusual for swordfish taken on the offshore banks to contain deep-sea fishes of one kind or another in their stomachs; many such instances have been recorded, sometimes swallowed so recently that they are still in good condition when the swordfish is opened. And since these so-called "black fishes" live outside the edge of the continent, mostly below 150 fathoms, this is good evidence that the swordfish found on the banks that front our Gulf do some of their foraging at considerable depths farther out at sea. It also seems that they sometimes strip lines set for halibut and tilefish of the fish already caught, for they are sometimes brought up tangled in the line.
It was not out of the ordinary for swordfish to be hooked on long lines set for halibut in the days when this fishery flourished (p. 255). Goode cites a number of cases, including one when 13 swordfish were caught in this way on one halibut trip. And fishermen have told us of more recent instances. Swordfish have often been hooked and landed on hand lines, also. A case is on record of 7 taken in this way on one trip, in the South Channel, in 15 to 25 fathoms of water, the bait being whole mackerel; evidence that swordfish seemingly do not insist on live food. We also read that of old, fishermen from Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket sometimes took them while trolling with some sort of silvery fish as bait, forecasting the big game anglers of today.
Many tales are current of swordfish attacking slow moving vessels without any provocation, and driving their swords through the planking, either [page 354] in "fits of temporary insanity," as Goode expressed it, or more likely, while pursuing dolphins or other fish. Most of the attacks of this sort reported from tropical seas seem actually to have been by spearfishes (p. 357) but some in northern waters seem almost certainly to have been by the broadbill. A case in point is that of the schooner Volunteer, out of Gloucester, which received a strong blow near Block Island, August 7, 1887, apparently from a 300-pound swordfish that was seen swimming alongside, and which proved to have lost its entire sword when it was harpooned and brought on board. We can only add that we have never heard of a swordfish making an unprovoked attack on any of the fishing vessels that pursue them every summer, or on any of the other craft, large or small, that cruise off our coasts. But fish that have been harpooned often turn on their pursuers, and it is a common event for one to pierce the thin bottom of a dory. We have, indeed, known several fishermen of our acquaintance to be wounded in the leg in this way, but always after the fish had been struck with the harpoon. Under these circumstances swordfish have been known to drive their swords right through the planking of a fishing vessel.
Stories of swordfish attacking whales are time honored traditions of the sea, mostly with no more foundation than the myth that they ally themselves with the harmless thresher shark for the purpose. As a matter of fact swordfish are easily frightened, and they will not often allow a small boat to come within striking range, which made harpooning from dories difficult in the old days. But for some occult reason they will allow themselves to be almost run down by a larger vessel without paying the least attention to its approach until aroused by its shadow, or by the swirl of water under its forefoot. But we have never heard of a swordfish actually being struck by a vessel; they always sound or turn aside in time.
Swordfish fight gamely on the surface or below when harpooned. Storer long ago wrote that they sometimes sound with such speed and force as to drive the sword into the bottom, which fishermen say is by no means uncommon; and we saw this off Halifax in August 1914, when a fish more than 10 feet long, which we had harpooned from the Grampus, plunged with such force that it buried itself in the mud beyond its eyes in 56 fathoms of water. When finally hauled alongside it brought up enough mud plastered to its head to yield a good sample of the bottom.
Full-grown swordfish are so active, so powerful, and so well armed that they have few enemies. Sperm and killer whales and the larger sharks alone could menace them. And while we can find no evidence that swordfish ever fall prey to the first two, Captain Atwood found a goodsized swordfish in the stomach of a Mako shark. A swordfisherman described seeing two large sharks bite or tear off the tail of a 350-pound swordfish, which he afterwards harpooned. A 120-pound swordfish, nearly intact with sword still attached, was found in the stomach of a 730 pound Mako taken near Bimini, Bahamas, while another Mako, of about 800 pounds, harpooned off Montauk, Long Island, was seen attacking a swordfish, and was found to have about 150 pounds of the flesh of the latter in its stomach when it was landed (p. 24). And Rich mentions that other like cases have been reported. Young swordfish would, of course, be preyed upon by any of the larger predaceous fishes.
Swordfish are infested with many parasites besides the remoras, several of which are often found clinging to one fish. No less than 12 species of worms and 6 of copepods have been identified from fish taken off Woods Hole.
The eggs of the swordfish have not been seen, or have not been identified if seen; probably they are buoyant. Neither is anything definitely known of the rate of growth of the swordfish. It has been supposed that the young fish of half a pound to 12 pounds that are taken in winter in the Mediterranean are the product of the past spring's spawning, which would call for unusually rapid growth. But the very large size to which swordfish grow may equally be the result of long life, as it is in the case of the tuna (p. 342).
Both sides of the Atlantic Ocean; north to northern Norway, southern and [page 355] western parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, south coast of Newfoundland and Grand Banks, south to latitude about 35° south. Also in the Mediterranean and Red Seas; about the Cape of Good Hope; and widespread in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean, both north and south of the equator.
The swordfish seems to have attracted little attention in the Gulf in colonial days, and though it has long supported a lucrative fishery off New England, we know little more of its life there today than in 1883 when Goode published his Materials for the History of the Swordfish. The outer half of the continental shelf off Block Island and southern Massachusetts; the offshore parts of the Nantucket Shoals region; Georges Bank; the deep channel between Georges and Browns; Browns Bank and La Have; and the banks off the outer coast of Cape Breton are its chief centers of abundance off our coasts.
On these grounds 25 or more are often sighted in a day, sometimes that many are in view at one time; in fact, "one skipper reports counting 47 fish in sight at one time, after a week-long breeze had died out to a flat calm," and some 10 to 20 thousand of them are harpooned every summer off the New England coast, with as many more off eastern Nova Scotia. An occasional swordfish is seen off Massachusetts Bay also, and along the Maine coast nearly every year. During some summers, of which 1884 was one, numbers of them appear there, and on such occasions some are taken in the Gulf from Cape Cod to Browns Bank, with Jeffreys Ledge and a zone about 10 to 12 miles off the coast from Boon Island to Cape Elizabeth perhaps their favorite inshore resort. But the great majority keep strictly to the offshore banks during most years, and they are seldom seen in the Bay of Fundy. Thus we find only 2,500 pounds (10 or 12 fish) brought in by the shore fishermen of Cumberland County, and 3 or 4 fish (800 lbs.) landed in York County in 1919, while none was reported as caught off the coast of Maine in 1945, though 193,000 pounds were landed on the Nova Scotian side of the Gulf (Yarmouth Co.) in that year and the offshore catch was considerable.
Swordfish seem to be less plentiful along the outer Nova Scotian coast from Cape Sable to the Gut of Canso than on Georges Bank or on Browns, though a few are brought in from the various fishing banks every summer (p. 357). But the amounts reported from the outer (Atlantic) coasts of Cape Breton are so large as to show that they are likely to be as numerous there as they are anywhere abreast of the Gulf of Maine, or off southern New England, and perhaps more concentrated. These regional variations may be illustrated by the landings for 1945, which were as follows for United States and Canadian vessels combined: offing of southern New England, westward from Nantucket Shoals, about 242,000 pounds; near coast of eastern Massachusetts, probably one fish; coast of Maine, 400 pounds; Bay of Fundy (including both shores), 0; Nantucket grounds and Georges Bank region (including South Channel grounds), about 800,000 pounds; off west coast of Nova Scotia and on western part of Browns Bank, about 671,000 pounds; Nova Scotian coast and banks from eastern part of Browns to offing of Cape Canso, at the entrance to the Gut of Canso, about 219,000 pounds; outer (Atlantic) coast of Cape Breton, about 2,059,000 pounds.
A few are harpooned on the Gulf of St. Lawrence shore of Cape Breton also; 600 pounds were reported there in 1936, 200 pounds (one fish?) in 1943, and 1,000 pounds (4 or 5 fish) in 1946. The only other definite report of swordfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that has come to our notice is from Bonne Bay, on the west coast of Newfoundland, where Wulff saw one, and had a strike from it (he did not hook the fish). But some few are seen and harpooned on the Grand Banks, and also along the south coast of Newfoundland, most often along the stretch between Port au Basque, on Cabot Strait, and Hermitage Bay. Here, writes Wulff, they sometimes come so close inshore that they "have been harpooned from the small wharfs, from shore, and from dories in the almost landlocked harbors," which we have never known to happen in the Gulf of Maine.[page 356]
Swordfish are summer fish on the North American coast like the tuna, and their presence (often reported) in the blue water between the outer edge of the continent and the inner edge of the Gulf Stream proper, off southern New England and the Gulf of Maine, added to the fact that few are seen along the coast south of New York, makes it likely that they come in from offshore, direct.
They appear about simultaneously off New York, off Block Island, on Nantucket Shoals, and on Georges Bank, sometime between the 25th of May and the 20th of June, but seldom on the Scotian Banks until somewhat later, or in the inner parts of the Gulf of Maine before July. They are most numerous in July and August, and they vanish at the approach of cold weather. None have ever been reported east of Cape Cod after the first half of November, so far as we can learn (in 1875 one was taken on Georges in November in a snowstorm) and most of them are gone by the last week in October, though some fish have been taken off New York and New Jersey in December and even in January. A case in point is that 13 were entangled in long lines set for tilefish in 95 to 125 fathoms off Long Island between December 20, 1921, and January 1, 1922.
General report has it that the fish caught early in the season average not only thinner but considerably smaller than those caught later, a phenomenon still awaiting satisfactory explanation.
Nearly all the swordfish that visit us weigh upwards of 50 to 60 pounds. One of 6 pounds 7 ounces, taken by the schooner Anna on Georges Bank, August 9, 1922 (now or formerly to be seen at the Boston Fish Bureau); a second of 7 pounds, taken by the schooner Courtney on a long line, on Browns Bank in 1931; a third of 7½ pounds, taken on a long line by the Dacia on Western Bank, early in September 1931; and a fourth 28¼ inches long to tip of lower jaw (its sword was broken off short), weighing 5¾ pounds, caught by the trawler Winchester, August 15, 1951, on the southeast part of Georges Bank in a haul which fished at 46 fathoms are the smallest Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotian specimens of which we have heard. Goode also reported a sword, only 3½ inches long, found sticking in the nostril of a mackerel shark caught at Gloucester, probably picked up somewhere off southern New England for this particular shark does not ordinarily range farther south than that. In the Mediterranean, however, young fry as small as half a pound are often brought to market.
It is generally believed that swordfish come directly in from the open seas when they appear on the offshore banks in spring; a few to enter the Gulf of Maine, but the majority to work slowly eastward along the outer part of the continental shelf. When they depart in autumn it is to return to the open Atlantic, but they are never seen on their journey offshore, or southward; they simply drop out of sight as the tuna do.
No ripe fish, male or female, have ever been seen off our coast. The ovaries and spermaries of most of those examined have shown no signs of approaching maturity; most of the fishermen, too, of whom we have inquired have assured us that they have never seen "spawn" in swordfish, though they had dressed hundreds. And while the captures of 3 fish with ovaries containing eggs in early stages of development have been reported, one brought into Provincetown in September 1909, a second with ovaries weighing 15 pounds, brought to New Bedford on June 25, 1922, and a third of about 150 pounds killed off Marthas Vineyard in July 1924, events of this sort are so unusual that they cause wide comment.
Evidently the swordfish that summer off our coasts spawn during the part of the year when they are elsewhere; probably in the subtropical parts of the Atlantic basin, for Lütken found swordfish fry as small as 10 mm. (evidently hatched only a short time previous) between the latitudes of 20° and 39° N. The fact that the fish are thin when they return to us in spring, but fatten during the summer stay, is further evidence that they are spent before they appear off our coasts.
Our only clue to the numbers of swordfish that visit our waters is the poundage [page 357] landed yearly. The smallest year's catch reported as landed at Portland, Gloucester, and Boston, within the period 1904 to 1929 was 883,000 pounds (in 1919), the largest 4,593,000 pounds (in 1929), the average about 2,000,000 pounds, or anywhere between 4,000 and 18,000 fish per year. And the landings in New England ports ran from 1,715,000 to 5,070,000 pounds during the decade 1930 to 1939 for southern New England and the Gulf of Maine. The interruption of swordfishing by German submarines and by the diversion of manpower was reflected in much lower landings during the first two years of the war, as was to be expected. But swordfishing picked up again after the war, to landings of about 1,250,000 pounds for southern New England and the Gulf of Maine, including western Browns Bank, in 1944 (New England and Canadian landings combined), to about 2,850,000 pounds in 1945, to about 2,500,000 pounds in 1946, and to something like 2,000,000 pounds in 1947.
A catch of somewhere between 2 million and 3 million pounds would be a reasonable expectation for southern New England and the Gulf of Maine combined in average years. The catch off Cape Breton, eastern Nova Scotia, has run between 1½ and 3 million pounds of late years (1939-1946), averaging a little more than 2 million until in 1947, when it fell to about 770,000 pounds. The Nova Scotian catches were not lessened by the submarine menace during the war years.
It is not known what percentage of the total number of swordfish off our coasts is represented by the catches. But, at least, they do not suggest that any extreme ups and downs took place prior to 1947.
Appreciation of the swordfish as a food fish is of rather recent growth. Down to the middle of the past century it was unsalable in Boston and brought a very low price in New York, but of late years the demand would have taken care of a much greater supply than has been brought in. In 1919, the price to the fishermen averaged about 24 cents; in 1928, 22 cents; and 18 cents per pound in 1929 when a large catch was made. In 1945 it brought between 40 and 42 cents; and it rose to about 60 cents in 1946, but fell again to about 40 cents in 1947.
Practically all the swordfish brought in to market are harpooned; we have never heard of one caught in net or seine, nor is it likely that any net now in use would hold a large one. Swordfish have also been taken from time to time on hand lines and on long lines baited for cod or halibut with mackerel or other fish (p. 353). But the numbers caught in these ways have never been large enough to figure to any extent in the total catches, and are not likely to be. Occasional swordfish have been caught by anglers of late years, on rod and reel, and sport fishermen would agree that a good-sized broadbill is the premier prize of the sea.
 In its tropical relatives, the sailfish and spearfish, the sword is round edged, spearlike, and relatively shorter.
 In the sailfishes and spearfishes the body is scaly, the jaws are toothed, ventral fins are present, and the first dorsal fin is much longer than that of the swordfish.
 Fishing Gazette for September 1921, p. 13.
 Gloucester Times, April 26, 1923.
 See Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, pp. 34-37) for these and other large fish landed from year to year.
 Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, pt. 2, 1947) has recently given an extended account of the occurrence and habits of our swordfish.
 Rich, Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, pt. 2, 1947, p. 23.
 The late Walter H. Rich of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries reports the following genera as taken from swordfish on Georges and Browns Banks: Alepisaurus, Chauliodus, Chiasmodon, Lampadena, Macrostoma, Myctophum, Notoscopelus, and Stomias.
 Kingsley (Science, N. Ser., vol. 56, 1922, pp. 225-226) reports two freshly swallowed stomiatids (Echiostoma barbatum) being taken from the stomach of a swordfish harpooned on the offshore slope of Georges Bank.
 Rept. U. S. Comm. Fish., (1880) 1883, pp. 353-354.
 Fish. Ind. U. S., Sect. 1, 1884, p. 345.
 Related by Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, pp. 48-49).
 Many cases of this sort are mentioned in the rather extensive literature dealing with the swordfish.
 Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, p. 71) so informs us.
 See Farrington (Field and Stream magazine, vol. 47, February 1943) and Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, p. 44) for more detailed accounts.
 Rept. U. S. Comm. Fish. (1880) 1883, pp. 298-394, pls. 1-24.
 Rich, Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, p. 71.
 See Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, pp. 55-62) for a more detailed survey of the distribution of swordfish on Georges, Browns, and the Nova Scotian Banks.
 The weights given are dressed; live-weights would be about 1¼ times as great.
 Forty pounds reported, but this probably is an error, for it is not likely that a swordfish that small was taken there.
 Victoria, Cape Breton and Richmond Counties, Nova Scotia.
 Internat. Game Fish Assoc. Yearbook, 1943, p. 66.
 This is often spoken of as the "Gulf Stream"; its more accurate name is the "slope water."
 Rich, Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Part 2, 1947, p. 58.
 Townsend, Science, N. Ser., vol. 56, 1922, pp. 18-19.
 Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, p. 43) is "inclined to think" that there are two or more "distinct year-schools" in our waters.
 Reported to us by George Kelley of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The specimen is in its collection in Woods Hole.
 Fish. Ind. U. S., Sect. 1, 1884, p. 348.
 See Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt. 2, 1947, pp. 37-39) for additional records of small Gulf of Maine swordfish.
 Many have been opened with this point in mind; some by us.
 Townsend, Science, N. Ser., vol. 56, 1922, pp. 18-19.
 Spolia Atlantica, in Kong. Danske Vidensk. Selsk. Skrift, Ser. 5, Nat. Math. Sect., vol. 12, No. 6, 1880, pp. 444-445.
 Landings were only about 545,000 pounds in Massachusetts and 7,000 pounds in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia in 1942; about 479,000 pounds in Massachusetts and about 17,300 pounds in Yarmouth County in 1943.
 Most recent year for which the landings have been published for the Canadian coast of the Gulf of Maine and for the ports in New England.
 The Canadian catch statistics for 1947 have not reached us yet.
 Information from Dr. A. H. Leim of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada.
 Rich (Proc. Portland Soc. Nat. Hist., vol. 4, Pt, 2, 1947, pp. 67-82) gives an interesting account of the methods of the New England swordfishery.