Sailfish vs Marlin: What’s The Difference?

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Sailfish and marlin are two of the most popular game fish for experienced billfish anglers in different places around the world.

With both fish species belonging to the billfish family, they certainly share some similarities. They are both large fish that are incredibly strong and fast.

Despite these similarities, sailfish and marlin are quite different, having unique characteristics.

In this article, we will discuss a comparison between sailfish vs marlin, highlighting the key differences between both species.

sailfish vs marlin

Billfish Family

The billfish family refers to a group of fish species that have a long bill, which they use for hunting. Fish species that belong to the billfish family are known to be great hunters as they use their bills to slash and stun their prey. They are known to feed on smaller fish and are highly migratory.

Billfish can commonly be found in oceans such as the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. The hunting skills of billfish make them stand out as apex pelagic ocean predators.

Sailfish, marlin, and swordfish are prominent members of the Billfish family. Other fish species that belong to the family are spearfish. Although their bills are their standout feature, billfish species share other similarities.

Fish in the Billfish family are typically very big, fast, acrobatic, and strong, making them excellent choices for sport fishing. They are advanced species with unique features.

Most billfish species have advanced swim bladders that allow them to reach mesopelagic depth while swimming. All billfish species have dorsal fins.

Billfish can be found in subtropical and tropical waters all over the world, particularly in places like Australia, the United States of America, and the Gulf of Mexico.

As they reside in deep water, the area around the edge of the continental shelf is a good place to fish them. This is the area where shallow water from land drops into the deep blue abyss that makes up the ocean.  


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Sailfish are different from marlins in a number of ways. In this section, we will highlight the features and characteristics of sailfish. This will enable us to differentiate between both fish species.


There are two main classifications of sailfish, which are Atlantic sailfish and Pacific sailfish. Pacific sailfish is also referred to as Indo-Pacific sailfish.

While experts have postulated that there is no difference in the DNA or fin length of both classes of sailfish, their main difference lies in their habitat.

Atlantic sailfish can be found in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Oceans, while Indo-Pacific sailfish can be found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.


The main difference between sailfish and marlin lies in their appearance.

Sailfish have a large dorsal fin that covers almost the entire length of their body. The dorsal fins of a sailfish is bigger than that of a marlin. The dorsal fins of a sailfish are extendable. When extended, their dorsal fins become wider than their body, resembling a sail.

Sailfish have a flattened body shape, making them laterally compressed. Sailfish commonly grow up to 120 inches in length and weigh between 120 and 200 pounds.

Sailfish are dark blue in color with a silver underbelly. They, however, have chromatophores that allow them to change their color whenever they feel agitated. The chromatophores of sailfish are also useful for breeding and hunting.


Sailfish are unique when it comes to hunting.

They are the only billfish species that are known to hunt in groups. They are very coordinated hunters, which is why they are referred to as the “wolves of the sea .”Sailfish hunt using a method known as herding. They use their sails to herd their prey toward the group before stunning them with their bills.


Sailfish are skilled fighters, using their speed to great effect. They are also very strong but are not as durable as marlin.

Sailfish have the ability to get themselves free whenever they are trapped. They do this by shaking their body vigorously.


You can find sailfish in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. They enjoy staying in warm water temperatures between 70°F and 83°.

Sailfish can be found in the temperate waters of Africa, Costa Rica, Panama, and Florida.


Sailfish feed on flying fish, squid, jacks, mackerel, and tunas. They prefer catching prey that swims near the surface of the water. As such, you can target sailfish closer to shore.


Although marlin and sailfish are both billfish and belong to the Istiophoridae family, they are still different fish species. In this section, we will discuss the features and characteristics of marlin.


Marlin is classified into four different types, which are blue marlin, striped marlin, white marlin, and black marlin.

1. Blue Marlin

Blue marlin, also called Atlantic blue marlin, can be found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They enjoy staying in water temperatures that range from 69° to 95°F. The blue marlin is the largest type of marlin.

2. Striped Marlin

As the name suggests, striped marlin have stripes on their body. They are similar to the blue marlin in appearance, with their vertical blue stripes setting them apart. Striped marlin is widely regarded as the most beautiful type of marlin. They can be found in the Indo-Pacific oceans. Striped marlin are tough fighters.

3. White Marlin

The white marlin is the smallest type of marlin but is the most agile. They also have the largest dorsal fins of any marlin. White marlin gets their name from the white areas and spots visible on their bellies and sides. White marlin can be found in the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Black Marlin

Black marlin are the fastest marlin. As a matter of fact, black marlin are regarded as the fastest fish in the ocean, swimming up to 80mph. Black marlin can be found in the Indian and Pacific oceans.


Marlin are typically bigger than sailfish, with the biggest marlin growing up to 14 feet and weighing close to 2000 pounds.

Female marlin are usually bigger than male ones. Their dorsal fins are shaped like a crest streamlined to their back. This is unlike that of a sailfish, which can be extended. The dorsal fins of marlin have a blueish color.


Unlike sailfish, marlin are solitary hunters who hunt alone. They target their prey by using their bill to slash at them in order to leave them stunned. Marlin relies on their speed and strength to hunt.


Marlin are dogged fighters, and they do not tire easily. As a matter of fact, a marlin can spend several hours going after prey. This is why it is important for anglers to be adequately prepared.

They fight with their bills which is quite dangerous and use their strength to break free whenever they feel trapped.


Marlin are more migratory than sailfish. They move around a lot, looking for good food and warm habitats.

Marlin enjoy swimming in deeper waters but always stays close to the water’s surface. You can find them in tropical deep-sea oceans like the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans.


Marlin has a similar diet to sailfish, as they feed on squid and small fish too. They also go after fresh mackerels, flying fish, and tunas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sailfish and marlin the same?

No, marlin and sailfish are not the same. Both fish species have certain similarities, such as having bills and belonging to the Istiophoridae family. However, they have a few major differences in areas of appearance, habitat, and social behavior.

What is a sailfish related to?

A sailfish is related to marlin as they both belong to the Istiophoridae family. Sailfish are not related to swordfish, as the latter are the sole members of the Xiphiidae family.

Is a marlin faster than a sailfish?

Generally speaking, the sailfish is a faster fish species than marlin. However, when the black marlin is faster than sailfish. While sailfish swim at a top speed of 68 mph, black marlin can reach 80 mph. On the other hand, the yellowfin tuna is regarded as the fastest pelagic fish in the world.

Is sailfish a swordfish?

No, a sailfish is not a swordfish. Although they are both billfish species, they do not belong to the same family. Sailfish is a member of the Istiophoridae family, while swordfish is the only member of the Xiphiidae family. Sailfish and swordfish are different in areas of appearance and social behavior.

What’s the difference between a sailfish, a swordfish, and a marlin?

The common features that sailfish, swordfish, and marlin share are their bills and dorsal fins. They are, however, different in a number of ways, such as the structure of their bills and fins. Swordfish also belong to a different family from sailfish and marlin. These billfish species can be found around underwater seamounts, as well as other structures that attract schooling baitfish.


Sailfish and marlin are similar in a lot of ways, and without the right information, you might mix them up.

Proper identification is important for a great fishing experience, which is why we have outlined the differences between these species. Overall, it is crucial always to employ safe fishing practices while baiting billfish. 

Daniel O’Neill
Fishing Expert
Meet Daniel, an avid writer and fanatic angler with a deep love for fishing. As a fly fishing guide and instructor, Daniel brings a wealth of expertise to his writing. With a degree in Business Information Technology, his analytical mindset enhances his understanding of the sport. Daniel's fishing ventures have yielded impressive results, including memorable catches like mullet, sturgeon, double-figure pike and atlantic salmon. In Ireland, he excels as a spearo, specializing in targeting pollock and bass. As a writer for Cast & Spear, Daniel combines his firsthand knowledge, educational background, and unwavering passion to create engaging content. His articles provide valuable insights, tips, and techniques, empowering readers to elevate their fishing skills and embark on thrilling angling adventures.
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