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October 26, 2001

"Sail-Less" Sailfish

Can a marlin and a sailfish successfully mate? and what are the chances of it really happening?

Q: While live-bait fishing off Miami Beach, Florida, we caught this 7 1/2-foot, 76-pound billfish that looks like a cross between a white marlin and an Atlantic sailfish. The second half of the dorsal fin was grown out part of the way like a sailfish, but the leading part of the dorsal looked similar to that of a white marlin. Could this be a result of a previous catch and release (although there were no other signs of trauma) or just a deformed fin? - Capt. Mark "The Shark" Quartiano, Miami, Florida

A: Although a cross between a white marlin and a sailfish is genetically possible - and could produce a billfish that looks like both a white marlin and a sailfish - your fish may just be a sailfish with a deformed sail. Many things can damage a sailfish's large dorsal fin, including a fight on a fishing line and rough handling during catch and release. In these cases, the tissue of the sailfish's sail is usually shredded, but the long, hard spines can still be seen. Sails may also be torn or dorsal fin spines broken off when the sailfish is very young, in which case the injury itself may not be visible. This often occurs when predators try to eat a very young sailfish or another small sailfish nips its fins. A genetic mutation can also produce a sailfish with a short fin. The only way of telling whether a billfish is a cross of two species is to freeze part of it and have it genetically tested.