Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Billfish Story

The Billfish Story: Swordfish, Sailfish, Marlin, and Other Gladiators of the Sea

Stan Ulanski
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Billfish Story
    Book Description:

    The billfish is fixed at the apex of the oceanic food chain. Composed of sailfish, marlin, spearfish, and swordfish, they roam the pelagic waters of the Atlantic and are easily recognized by their long, spear-like beaks. Noted for their speed, size, and acrobatic jumps, billfish have for centuries inspired a broad spectrum of society. Even in antiquity, Aristotle, who assiduously studied the swordfish, named this gladiator of the sea xiphias-the sword. The Billfish Story tells the saga of this unique group of fish and those who have formed bonds with them-relationships forged by anglers, biologists, charter-boat captains, and conservationists through their pursuit, study, and protection of these species. More than simply reciting important discoveries, Stan Ulanski argues passionately that billfish occupy a position of unique importance in our culture as a nexus linking natural and human history. Ulanski, both a scientist and an angler, brings a rich background to the subject in a multifaceted approach that will enrich not only readers' appreciation of billfish but the whole of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4633-5
    Subjects: Zoology, Aquatic Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Roaming the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean are predators at the apex of the oceanic food chain—the billfish. These species include the sailfish, spearfish, white and blue marlin, which are all part of the same biological family, Istiophoridae; and the swordfish, the only member of the Xiphidae family. Probably no other feature better defines these fish than their long, pointed bills, which have been used by swordfish to pierce the hulls of unsuspecting ships and by sailfish to slash through schools of panicked baitfish.

    Noted for their speed, size, and acrobatic jumps, billfish have inspired a broad spectrum...

  6. 1 The Rise of Billfish
    (pp. 5-20)

    An eighty-pound female sailfish, large for her species, slowly cruises the cobalt-blue waters around the island of Bermuda in search of her next meal. She has ridden the powerful Gulf Stream to this ancient island, which plunges thousands of feet to the ocean floor. As the result of a complex interplay of Bermuda’s underwater topography and current flow, nutrient-enriched water has welled up from the depths to initiate a food chain. As if out of nowhere, microscopic plants and animals appear—a meadow of life spreads across the ocean surface—and bait-fish move in to partake of this cornucopia of...

  7. 2 The Interlocking Web of Ocean Life: FROM PLANKTON TO BILLFISH
    (pp. 21-35)

    During the last week of September 1492, Christopher Columbus had more to worry about than finding a sea passage to the Orient; his ships were adrift in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, becalmed by weak winds and lack of currents. Columbus immediately recognized the gravity of the situation. With the possibility of running out of potable water, Columbus and all aboard faced the ominous prospect of dying from thirst. But his crew, a superstitious lot to begin with, harbored a greater fear: that the maze of seaweedlike plants, which washed against their vessel, would become so thick and tangled...

  8. 3 Billfish through the Ages
    (pp. 36-60)

    More than ninety years ago Zane Grey generated considerable interest in billfish with the publication of his book Tales of Fishes (1919), stories of his worldwide fishing adventures.

    Suddenly my line rose—and then, bewilderingly near the boat, when I was looking far off, the water split with a roar and out shot a huge, gleaming, white-and-purple fish. He blurred in my sight. Down he went with a crash. I wound the reel like a madman, but I never even half got up the slack line. The swordfish had run straight toward the boat. He leaped again, in a place...

  9. 4 Anatomy of Tournaments
    (pp. 61-88)

    For over two hours, angler Andy Thomasson aboard the Citation had struggled with a blue marlin that refused to surface, opting instead to bulldoggedly hunker down, but Thomasson’s determined efforts ultimately brought the marlin to the gaff. As Captain Eric Holmes related, “When we finally saw it, we couldn’t believe it.” And back at the dock, the monster-sized fish tipped the scale at 883 pounds, a new record for the annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. The crew aboard the Citation was ecstatic; that marlin earned them over $1 million in prize money during the 2010 tournament.

    But that dream...

    (pp. None)
  11. 5 The Ultimate Billfish: BLUE MARLIN
    (pp. 89-110)

    The captain’s cry—“long, left outrigger!”—sent the mate scurrying over to that side of the boat. Even as Dan grabbed hold of the 80-pound test outfit, removing it quickly from the gunwale’s rod holder, line continued to peel off the reel at an eye-blurring pace. Shouts of “blue marlin” rang out, and in the distance, I saw a dark form streaking toward the horizon. By now, Dan had the situation under control. With the fish well hooked, he slid the lever drag to the strike position, with the intent to exert enough pressure on the fish without breaking the...

  12. 6 Night Stalkers: SWORDFISH
    (pp. 111-132)

    Dominating the entrance to the fishing museum of the International Game Fishing Association in Dania, Florida, is a larger-than-life sculpture of a leaping swordfish, suspended in air as if defying gravity and rebellious in nature with its bill thrust skyward. Soaring twenty-four feet in the air, this stainless steel sculpture by Ken Ullberg is just one dramatic example of the myriad artistic expressions that attempt to capture the essence of the iconic billfish.

    Of all the thousands of fish species that roam the earth’s oceans and seas, probably none has garnered the imagination and interest of sculptors, painters, and illustrators...

  13. 7 Billfish Bantamweights: SPEARFISH, WHITE MARLIN, AND SAILFISH
    (pp. 133-156)

    For some adventurous souls, catching billfish from a traditional watercraft, like a boat, has lost its appeal, or at least diminished in intensity, and they have sought out other more exotic and, yes, dangerous methods. The use of kayaks has in recent years exploded onto the billfish scene. In addition to the adrenaline rush from seeing a hooked billfish streaking off into the distance, the draw for many anglers is the intimacy they experience with their surroundings. Sitting in a small plastic craft that is bobbing just above the water, the angler feels that he is part of the fish’s...

  14. 8 The Fate of Billfish
    (pp. 157-182)

    Conservation or exploitation—which way will the scale tip with regard to the billfish? Is there a common ground to be achieved among the vested interests? The search for answers may start with a glance back through history, when our relationship with nature was much simpler than it is today.

    Hemingway is widely recognized as an accomplished and innovative angler, catching and keeping numerous fish. The essayist Paul Greenberg undertook the daunting task of estimating the number of marlin and tuna that Hemingway killed over his lifetime by poring over every photograph in the archives of the John F. Kennedy...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-192)
  16. Index
    (pp. 193-196)