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Posted on Sep 1, 2011 in Top Shots
Graves’ New World
by Doug Olander
Guy Harvey

Question: Is a blue marlin more closely related to a black marlin or a sailfish? Is a black marlin more closely related to a blue marlin or a white marlin?

Stupid questions, you say? Well, what had been common (and scientific) wisdom for decades has very recently been proven wrong, thanks to the genetic testing of Dr. John Graves, a renowned billfish biologist (and one of five winners of Sport Fishing’s Making a Difference Awards) and others. That genetics research has turned the world of billfish science on its head. Yes, Virginia, it turns out that blue marlin are more closely related to sailfish than black marlin. And black marlin are more closely related to whites (and stripes) than they are to blues.

I admit up front that I’m something of a fish geek. The graduate class in taxonomy and classification in Seattle, way back when, that bored the pants off other students fascinated me. So of course I found these revelations pretty mind-blowing when I read Graves’ “Shaking Up the Family Tree,” an article in the Mid-Atlantic $500,000’s Billfish Research and Management News in mid-August.

I suspect most serious saltwater fishing enthusiasts will find all this pretty eye opening, as well.

Not only are associations among billfish species reordered, so are scientific names. In Graves’ new world, Makaira nigricans[[ITAL]] is no more. Now the black marlin has its own genus, no long Makaira (like the blue marlin) but Istiompax. And now, formally added to the billfish family tree is the roundscale spearfish, AKA “hatchet marlin.” Though it appears superficially similar to the white marlin (for which it has been mistaken for many decades — “hiding in plain sight,” as Graves says), the roundscale is indeed one of the spearfishes.

You can read the entire article here. And if you have any interest in billfishes or marine science in general, I suspect you’ll be glad you did.