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October 25, 2001

Longbill with a Shrinking Dorsal

Q: In May 1998, I caught an 86-pound billfish off the coast of Omoa Cortes, Honduras. Many of my fishermen colleagues contend that the fish shown in the enclosed picture is not a blue marlin but a spearfish. Being a subscriber and avid reader of your magazine I would like you to confirm what kind of billfish it is and put an end to our argument. - Capt. Favio Icaza, HondurasA: Captain, it's indeed a longbill spearfish, Tetrapterus pfluegeri - but it's a big un', and that's probably what led to the confusion.

Q: In May 1998, I caught an 86-pound billfish off the coast of Omoa Cortes, Honduras. Many of my fishermen colleagues contend that the fish shown in the enclosed picture is not a blue marlin but a spearfish. Being a subscriber and avid reader of your magazine
I would like you to confirm what kind of billfish it is and put an end to our argument. - Capt. Favio Icaza, Honduras

A: Captain, it's indeed a longbill spearfish, Tetrapterus pfluegeri - but it's a big un', and that's probably what led to the confusion. Blue marlin have a much higher forehead and deeper body than the more slender spearfishes, along with some scale and paired fin characters not evident in the photo. However, most field guides and I.D. books mention that the dorsal fin of spearfishes is much higher than in marlins. What they don't point out is that in much larger spearfishes, the dorsal tends to become relatively lower, thus resembling a young blue marlin. Your spearfish was less than 10 pounds from the world record of 94 pounds, 12 ounces. Incidentally, there are a couple other spearfishes around: the shortbill of the Pacific and the Mediterranean spearfish from that sea.