Sailfish – the fastest fish in the world?

Sailfish – the world’s fastest fish?

The sailfish is the fastest fish in the world that many avid anglers would like to have as a trophy over their fireplace. What else, apart from its amazing speed, sets it apart from other sea dwellers and makes it ignite the imaginations of so many people?


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Istiophoriformes
  • Family: Istiophoridae
  • Genus: Istiophorus
  • Species:
    • Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)
    • Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans)
Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

One or two species?

Most scientists say that the same species of sailfish exists in all the world’s waters: Istiophorus platypterus. However, there are those who believe that the Atlantic fish of this family should be treated separately as Istiophorus albicans. Still, no exceptionally strong genetic proof can be found to confirm this thesis in 100%. Despite this, both species are mentioned in many publications.

Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)


Sailfish can be found practically all over the world, which is why it is called a cosmopolitan species. It occurs in oceans, tropical and moderately warm waters, as well as the Red and Mediterranean Seas. It mostly swims at near the surface, at a depth not exceeding 40 meters (130 ft). Although it sometimes wanders deep into the ocean, it definitely prefers being close to the coasts of islands and land.

The sailfish is found in the western Pacific from latitudes 45° to 50° N and latitudes 40° to 35° S and in the cooler eastern Pacific between 35° N and 35° S. In the western Indian Ocean, the distribution area extends north of 45° south latitude, in the east north of 35° south latitude. In the north, the distribution area is limited by the coast of South Asia. The fish also live in the Red Sea and migrate to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.

In the Atlantic, the Atlantic sailfish population occurs between latitude 40°N northwest and latitude 50°N northeast and latitude 40°S southwest and latitude 32°S southwest. Besides the Mediterranean, both sailfish populations only have contact with each other on the coast of South Africa and can mix.

Sailfish prefer water that is between 21 and 28°C (70 – 82℉) and stay above the thermocline , although they can dive deeper.

Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)



The most distinctive feature of a sailfish is its sail-shaped fin, which sometimes extends above the water’s surface. The dorsal fin is blue in color and covered with black spots.

The body of the sailfish is elongated and strongly flattened laterally. They usually reach lengths of about 2.5 meters. The maximum length is 3.80 meters (12.5ft). The fish reach a maximum weight of 50 to 100 kg (110 – 220 lb). Very large specimens are always females.

The upper side of the fish is dark blue, the flanks light blue with brown markings and about 20 longitudinal stripes made up of many light blue dots. The abdomen and the base of the first and second anal fins are silvery white. The membrane of the large first dorsal fin is dark blue or almost black with scattered small, round, black dots. The remaining fins are blackish brown or dark blue.

The size of the sailfish’s dorsal fin is twice the height of the body.

The back of the sailfish is blue-gray, and its body is decorated with stripes of dark spots. The scales – which is typical of this species – are large and elongated.

Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

Sailfish – the fastest fish in the world?

Among other species, sailfish is distinguished primarily by speed.

Sailfish are said to be able to reach top speeds of 40 to 59 knots (approx. 75-110 km/h / 46.6 – 68 mph) and are therefore among the fastest fish. However, more recent studies cast doubt on this information, according to which sailfish do not exceed speeds of 36 km/h (22 mph). A new study shows that the theoretical maximum speed that can be expected is 36 to 45 km/h (22 – 28 mph).


Sailfish feed almost entirely on small fish, but they also like to eat crustaceans and cephalopods.


The sailfish kills its victims with a long, thin rostrum, that is, the elongated part of the upper lip.

Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)


Sailfish usually form small groups, consisting of 3 to 30 individuals. They are also found in looser formations that occupy a very large area. Spawning usually takes place in summer in open water areas.

Sailfish and man

This unusual fish is the object of desire of many fishermen. There are even sports fishing for sailfish. When caught with a fishing rod, it can fight for a long time and even jump out of the water to great heights – all in order to free itself from the hook.

Sailfish are also used in the food sector, as fresh, frozen and smoked meat.

Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

Detailed data and dimensions (size)

  • Average body length: 100-150 cm / 3.3 – 4.9 ft; record 380 cm / 12.5ft
  • Weight: 10-40 kg (22- 88 lb) ; record 100.2 kg (220.9 lb)
  • The maximum dimensions of the dorsal fin:
    • height 100 cm (3.3 ft)
    • length 170 cm (5.6 ft)
  • Speed:
    • previously estimated to reach maximum swimming speeds of 125 km/h (77.7 mph)
    • research published in 2015 and 2016 indicate sailfish do not exceed speeds between 10–15 m/s (36 – 54 km/h / 22.4 – 33.6 mph).
    • During predator–prey interactions, sailfish reached burst speeds of 7 m/s (25 km/h / 15.7 mph) and did not surpass 10 m/s (35 km/h / 22.4 mph).
  • Number of vertebrae: 24
Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

Sailfish – interesting facts

  • The largest sailfish was 380 (12.5 ft) centimeters long, and the heaviest one weighed over 100 kilograms (220 lb).
  • Sailfish meat is used in the preparation of sushi and sashimi.
Indo-Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)


Dinosaur Database

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