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the American fish.

The range of the species on the eastern coast of America can now be defined with some
accuracy. Northward and eastward these fish have been seen as far as Cape Breton and Sable
Island Banks.

Captain Rowe states that during a trip to George's Banks he has seen them off Chebucto
Head, near Halifax, where the fishermen claim occasionally to have taken them with seines.

Capt. Daniel O'Brien, of the schooner "Ossipee," took five Sword-fish on his halibut trawl, in
two hundred fathoms of water, between La Have and Brown's Banks, in August, 1877.

Capt. Jerome B. Smith, of the schooner " Hattie Lewis," of Gloucester, killed a Sword-fish off
Cape Smoke, near Sidney, Cape Breton. 3

'American Monthly Magazine, ii, 1818, p. 242.
* Rinso, Cuvier and Valenciennes, Gnichenot, etc.
'Capt R. H. Bnlbert.

1,-ANcr. OF S\VOI;D risn IN \\KSTKKN ATLANTIC. 341

Mr. .1. Matthew Jones, of Halifax. Nova Scotia, writes, in 1877: "The Sword-fish is by no
means common on our coast, and only makes its appearance at intervals in our harbors and bays.
One was taken in l.stil in Hedfonl Masin, at the head of Halifax Harbor. September 0, 1866, an
individual weighing two hundred pounds was taken in a net at Devil's Island. November 12,
\ -'>'. i lie Rev. J. Ambrose sent me a sword, three feet and six inches long, from a fish taken at
Dover, Nova Scotia, a few days previously."

On the coasts of Maine. Massachusetts, and Rhode Island they abound in the summer mouths.
Southward they aie !.<> t'rei|iu>ntly seen, though their occurrence off New York is not unusual. I
have never known one to be taken off New Jersey, aud in our southern waters they do not appear
to remain. Uhler and Lugger vaguely state that they sometimes enter the Chesapeake Bay. 1
This is apparently traditionary evidence.

Dr. Yarrow obtained reliable information of their occasional appearance near Cape Lookout,
North Carolina.* %

Mr. A. W. Simpson states, iu a letter to Professor Baird, that Sword fish are sometimes seen
at >ea off Cape Hatteras, in November and December, in large quantities. They sometimes find
their way into the sounds.

An item went the rounds of the newspapers in 1876 to the effect that a Sword-fish four feet
long had been captured in the Saint John's River, near Jacksonville. After personal inquiry in
Jacksonville, I am satisfied that this was simply a scabbard-fish or silvery hair-tail (Trichiurim

Professor Poey states that the fishermen of Cuba sometimes capture the Fez de Espada when
in pursuit of Agujas or Spear-fishes. 3 They have also been seen in Jamaica.

Liitkeu gives instances of the capture of young Sword-fish at various points iu the open
Atlantic, as follows:

(1) Latitude 32 5(K N., longitude 74 19' W. (about 150 miles southeast of Cape Ilatteras).

(2) Latitude 23 W., longitude 65 W. (about 500 miles northeast of the island of Antigua).

(3) Latitude 20 N., longitude 31 W. (about 150 miles northwest of Teneriffe, and 250
southwest of Madeira).

(4) On the equator, longitude 29 (about 500 miles northeast of Cape St. Roque).

(5) Latitude 25 4' S., longitude 27 26' W. (about 500 miles south of the island of Trinidad,
South Atlantic).

OCCURRENCE IN THE PACIFIC AND INDIAN OCEANS. We have no record of their occurrence
on the eastern coast of South America, but the species is found on the Pacific coast of the same
continent, and north to California.

Professor Jordan writes : " Occasionally seen about Santa Catalina and the Coronados, but
never taken, the fishermen having no suitable tackle. One seen by us off Santa Monica, iu 1880,
about eight feet in length."

Mr. Willard Nye, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, kindly communicates the following notes:
Captain Dyer, of this port, says that Sword-fish are plentiful off the Peruvian coast, a number
lu-inf,' often in sight at one time. The largest he ever saw was one caught by himself about 150
miles from the shore, and which he estimates to have weighed 900 to 1,000 pounds; the ship's
crew subsisted on it for several days and then salted 400 pounds.

' List of the Fishes of Maryland. By P. R. UlUer and Otto Lugger, in Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries of
Maryland, January, 1876, p. 90.

Notes on the Natural History of Fort Macon, North Carolina, and vicinity (No. 3). By H. C. Yarrow, in Pro-
ceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1877, p. 207.

' Synopsis Piscinm Cubensium, Catalogo razonado de los Pecea de la Isla de Cuba, in Bepertorio flsico-natnral
de la Isla de Cuba, ii, 1868, p. 379.


Captain Allen also states that while cruising in the Pacific for whales he has found the
Sword-fish very abundant on the coasts of Peru and Chili, from the immediate coast 300 miles
out, though outside of that limit they are seldom seen. They are most plenty during the month
of January, when they are feeding on the common mackerel, with which those waters at that
time abound. The largest he ever caught weighed about 600 pounds.

Both Captain Allen and Captain Dyer have made several voyages as masters of whaling
ships, and are perfectly familiar with Sword-fish on our coast ; both speak of seeing plenty of
Bill-fish in the Pacific, but they never had taken the trouble to catch them. Giinther mentions
them in his book on the " Fishes of the South Sea."

In 1874 Dr. Hector discovered a sword-fish snout in the museum at Auckland, New Zealand,
and his announcement of the discovery was followed by the publication of two other instances
of its occurrence in this region. 1

SWOKD-FISH ENTERING RIVERS. Sword-fish have been known to enter the rivers of Europe.
We have no record of such a habit in those frequenting our waters. 2

JElian's improbable story that they were taken in the Danube in winter has been mentioned.
Southey and others relate that a man was killed while bathing in the Severn, near Worcester, by
one of these fishes, which was afterwards caught.

Couch states that a Sword-fish, supposed to weigh nearly three hundred pounds, was caught
in the river Parret, near Bridge water, in July, 1834. 3

According to De la Blanchere, one of them was taken, in the ninth year of the French
Republic, in the river of Vannes, on the Bay of Biscay. 4

In the great hall of the Rathhaus in the city of Bremen hangs a large painting of a Sword-
fish which was taken in the river Weser by some Bremen fishermen some time in the eighteenth

Underneath it is painted the following inscription :

"ANNO. 1G96. DEN. 18. JULI. 1ST. DIESER.

Before entering upon a discussion of the movements of the Sword-fish and their causes, it

'HECTOR: Trans. New Zealand Inst., vii (1874), 1875, p. 246. HCTTON : Ibid., viii (1675), 1876, p. 211.
CHEESEMAN: Ibid., p. '219.

"They sometimes approach very near the shore, however, as is shown by the following extract from a Cape Cod
paper :

"A Su>ord-Ji#h in close quarters. Monday afternoon, while Mr. A. McKenzie, the boat-builder on J. S. Atwood's
wharf, was busily at work, his attention wus attracted by a splashing of water under his workshop, as if a score of
boys were swimming and making all the noise they possibly could by beating the water with their feet and hands.
After this had been kept up awhile his curiosity became excited, and upon investigating tho cause of the disturb-
ance discovered a Sword-fish among tho piles, where, in his attempts to escape, he had become bewildered and
imprisoned. Quickly getting a harpoon, Mr. McKeuzie fastened the fish, and with the aid of bystanders drew it
alive upon the wharf, where it was visited by many spectators, uud snbs'.'quently dressed and sold. It measured ten
feet from the end of its sword to the tip of the tail the sword itself being three foot hi length. It is the first
instance known of one of these fish being so near the shore, and why it should have been there at the time described
is not easily explained." Provincetown Advocate, September 29, 1875.

'History of British Fishes, ii, p. 148.

<Dictionnaire Ge'ne'ral des Peches.


XMMII-. de>iral>le In lirin;.' tn^ciliiT tin- i;n-i> uhi.-li ha\e lii-eii learned. 1>\ enmiT^i'ioi, \\nli li-ln-r
men and otherwise, in one group. Kaeh man's views are given in his own stylo, and as nearly as
possible in his own words. There is no attempt at a classification of the facts. This will be made

An old sword-fish fisherman at New York informed Mr. Blackford that the season opens in the
neighborhood of Sandy Hook about the first of June and continues along the coast as far east as
Martha's Vineyard and Nuutucket Shoals until about the middle of September. He has heard of
their being caught as far cast as Gape Sable. At the first cold winds of September they disap-
pear, They are, like the mackerel, at first very poor and lean, but as the season advances they
grow fatter.

Mr. John H. Thomson, of New Bedford, who kindly interviewed some of the local fishermen,
writes: "The Sword-fish appear on our coast, south of Block Island, about May 25 to June 1.
They appear to come from the southwest, or just inside the track of the Gulf Stream. They
gradually approach the Vineyard Sound and vicinity during June, and until July 10 or 15, then
appear to leave, working to the southeast, and are to be found to the southeast of Crab Led go
about the middle of July. This school is composed of comparatively small fish, averaging about
one hundred and fifty pounds gross, or about one hundred pounds without head and tail, ns they
are delivered in th? market. The smallest are four feet long, including the sword, and weigh from
thirty to forty pounds; the largest eight and a half feet long, with sword, and weighing three
hundred pounds gross. These fish are of a light plumbeous hue, darker ou the back and white on
the belly.

"Of late years another school has appeared southeast of Cape Cod and George's Banks about
the 1st of August. These fish are altogether different, being much larger, weighing from three to
eight hundred pounds gross, and are entirely black. I have this week conversed with an old smack-
man, M. C. Tripp, who has all his life been a fisherman, and has This year (1874) captured about
ninety fish, and his opinion is that they are not the same school. They appear to bo of about the
same abundance in average years, the catch depending on weather, fogs, etc. They come and leave
in a general school, not in close schools like other fish, but distributed over the surface of the water,
the whole being called by the fishermen the 'annual school,' though it cannot strictly be so

According to Mr. Willard Nye, Sword-fish appear on the coast of Massachusetts from the 8th
to the 20th of June, and are first seen southwest of Block Island. They begin to leave in August,
but stray ones are sometimes seen as late as the last of October. The usual explanation of their
movements is that they are following their food mackerel and menhaden which swann our
waters in the season named, and which are of course driven off by the approach of winter and
rough weather.

Capt. B. H. Hurlbert took a very large Sword-fish on George's Banks, in November, 1875, in
a snow-storm.

The first Sword-fish of the season of 1875 was taken June 20, southwest of Montauk Point;
its weight was one hundred and eighty-five jwunds.

One taken off Nornan's Land, July 20, 1875, weighed when dressed one hundred and twenty
pounds, and measured seven feet. A cast was taken (No. 360), which was exhibited in the Gov-
ernment Building at Philadelphia.

Capt. Benjamin Ashby, of Noank, Connecticut, tells me that the New London and Noank
vessels leave home on their sword fishing cruise about the 6th of July. Through July they fish
between Block Island and Nouiau's Land ; in August between Noman's Laud and the South


Shoals light-ship. The fish "strike in" to Block Island and Moutauk Point every year about the
1st of July. They are first seen twenty to twenty-five miles southeast of Montauk. At the end
of August they are most abundant in the South Channel. Captain Ashby never saw them at any
time so abundant as August 15, 1859. He was cruising between George's Banks and the South
Shoals. It was a calm day, after a fog. He could at any time see twenty-five or thirty from the
mast-head. They turn south when snow comes.

Capt. George H. Martin, of East Gloucester, tells me that the Gloucester vessels employed in
this fishery expect to be on the fishing grounds south of George's Banks by the 10th of June.
They almost always find the fish there on their arrival, following the schools of mackerel. They
"tend on soundings," like the mackerel. The first Sword-fish of 1877 was taken June 10; the
first of 1878, June 14.

The statements already quoted, and numerous conversations with fishermen not here recorded,
lead me to believe that Sword-fish are most abundant on the shoals near the shore and on the
banks during the months of July and August; that they make their appearance on the frequented
cruising grounds between Moutauk Point and the eastern part of George's Banks some time
between the 25th of May and the 20th of June, and that they remain until the approach of cold
weather in October or early iu November. The dates of the capture of the first fish on the cruis-
ing ground referred to are recorded for three years, and are reasonably reliable: 1875, June 20;
1877, June 10; 1878, June 14.

South of the cruising ground the dates of arrival and departure are doubtless farther apart ;
north and east the season being shorter. There are no means of obtaining information, since the
men engaged in this fishery are the only ones likely to remember the dates when the fish are seen.

our waters iu pursuit of its food. At least this is the most probable explanation of their move-
ments, since the duties of reproduction appear to be performed elsewhere. Like the tunny, the
blue-fish, the bouito, and the squeteaguc, they pursue and prey upon the schools of menhaden and
mackerel which are so abundant in the summer months. "When you see Sword-fish, you may
know that mackerel are about," said an old fisherman to me. " Where you see the fin-back whale
following food, there you find Sword-fish," said another. The Sword-fish also feeds upon squid,
which are at times abundant on our banks.


extent this fish is amenable to the influences of temperature is an unsolved problem. We are
met at the outset by the fact that they are frequently taken on trawl-lines which are set at the
depth of one hundred fathoms or more, on the off-shore banks. We know that the temperature of
the water at those localities and at that depth is sure to be less than 40 Fahrenheit. How is this
fact to be reconciled with the known habits of the fish, that it prefers the warmest weather of
summer and swims at the surface in water of temperature ranging from 55 to 70, sinking when
cool winds blow? The case seemed clear enough until this inconvenient discovery was made, that
Sword-fish are taken on bottom trawl-linos. In other respects their habits agree closely with
those of the mackerel tribe, all the members of which seem sensitive to slight changes in tempera-
ture, and which, as a rule, prefer temperature iu the neighborhood of 50 or more.

There is one theory by which this difficulty may be avoided. We may suppose that the
Sword-fish take the hooks on their way down to the bottom ; that in their struggles they get
entangled in the line and hooks, and when exhausted sink to the bottom. This is not improbable.
A conversation with some nshermtiu who have caught them in this way develops the fact that the
fish are usually much tangled in the Hue, and are nearly lifeless when they are brought to the


surface. A continuation is found in the observations of Captain Baker, of the schooner " Peter
D. Smith," of Gloucester, who tells me that they often are taken on the hnud-lines of the cod-fisher-
men on George's Hanks. His observations lead him to believe that they only take the hook when
the tide is running very swiftly and the lines are trailing out in the tideway at a considerable
distance from the bottom, and that the Sword-iish strike for the bottom as soon as they are
hooked. This theory is not improbable, as I have already remarked, but I do not at present
advocate it very strongly. I want more facts before making up my own mind. At present the
relation of the Sword-fish to temperature must be left without being understood.

The appearance of the fish at the surface depends apparently upon temperature. They are
seen only upon quiet summer days, in the morning before ten or eleven o'clock, and in the after-
noon about four o'clock. Old fishermen say that they rise when the mackerel rise, and when the
mackerel go down they go down also.

PROBABLE WINTER HABITAT OF THE SWORD-PISH. Regarding the winter abode of the
Sword-fish conjecture is useless. I have already discussed this question at length with reference
to the menhaden and mackerel. With the Sword-fish the conditions are very different. The
former are known to spawn in our waters, and the schools of young ones follow the old ones in
toward the shores. The latter do not spawn in our waters. We cannot well believe that they
hibernate, nor is the hypothesis of a sojourn in the middle strata of mid-ocean exactly tenable.
Perhaps they migrate to some distant region, where they spawn. But then the spawning time of
this species in the Mediterranean, as is related in a subsequent paragraph, appears to occur in
the summer mouths, at the very time when Sword-fish are most abundant in our own waters,
apparently feeling no responsibility for the perpetuation of their species.

MOVEMENTS OF INDIVIDUAL SWORD-FISHES. A Sword-fish when swimming near the surface
usually allows its dorsal fin and the upper lobe of its caudal fin to be visible, projecting out of the
water several inches. It is this habit which enables the fisherman to detect the presence of the
fish. It swims slowly along, and the fishing schooner with a light breeze finds no difficulty in
overtaking it. When excited its motions are very rapid and nervous. Sword-fish are sometimes
seen to leap entirely out of the water. Early writers attributed this habit to the tormenting pres-
ence of parasites, but this theory seems hardly necessary, knowing what we do of its violent
exertions at other times. The pointed head, the fins of the back and abdomen snugly fitting into
grooves, the absence of ventrals, the long, lithe, muscular body, sloping slowly to the tail, fit it
for the most rapid and forcible movement through the water. Prof. Richard Owen, testifying in
an English court in regard to its power, said :

"It strikes with the accumulated force of fifteen double-handed hammers. Its velocity is
equal to that of a swivel-shot, and is as dangerous in its effects as a heavy artillery projectile."

Many very curious instances are on record of the encounters of this fish with other fishes, or
of their attacks upon ships. What can be the inducement for it to attack objects so much larger
than itself it is hard to surmise. Many are familiar with the couplet from Oppiau:

Nature her bounty to his mouth confined,
Gave him a sword, but left unarmed his mind.

It surely seems as if a temporary insanity sometimes takes possession of the fish. It is not
strange that, when harpooned, it should retaliate by attacking its assailant. An old sword-fish
fisherman told Mr. Blacktbrd that his vessel had been struck twenty times. There are, however,
many instances of entirely unprovoked assault on vessels at sea. Many of these are recounted in
a later portion of this memoir. Their movements when feeding are discussed below, as well as
their alleged peculiarities of movement during the breeding season.


It is the universal testimony of our fishermen that two are never seen swimming close
together. Captain Ashby says that they are always distant from each other at least thirty or
forty feet.

we have the exact measurements was taken off Seaconnet, Ehode Island, July 23, 1874. This was
seven feet seven inches long, weighing 113 pounds. Another, taken off Neman's Land, July 20,
1875, and cast in plaster for the collection of the National Museum, weighed 120 pounds, and meas-
ured about seven feet. Another, taken off Portland, August 15, 1878, was 3,999 millimeters long,
and weighed about 600 pounds. Many of these fish doubtless attain the weight of 400 and 500
pounds, and some, perhaps, grow to 600; but after this limit is reached, I am inclined to believe
larger fish are exceptional. Newspapers are fond of recording the occurrence of giant fish, weigh-
ing 1,500 pounds and upwards, and old sailors will in good faith describe the enormous fish which
they saw at sea, but could not capture; but one well-authenticated instance of accurate weighing-
is much more valuable. The largest one ever taken by Capt. Benjamin Ashby, for twenty years a
sword-fish fisherman, was killed on the shoals back of Edgartown, Massachusetts. When salted it
weighed 639 pounds. Its live weight must have been as much as 750 or 800. Its sword measured
nearly six feet. This was an extraordinary fish among the three hundred or more taken by
Captain Ashby in his long experience. He considers the average size to be about 250 pounds
dressed, or 325 alive. Captain Martin, of Gloucester, estimates the average size at 300 to 400
pounds. The largest known to Captain Michaux weighed 625. The average about Block Island
he considers to be 200 pounds.

There are other stories of large fish. Capt. E. H. Hurlbert, of Gloucester, killed one on
George's Banks, in September, 1876, which weighed when dressed 480 pounds. Capt. John Eowe,
of the same port, salted one which filled two and one-half barrels. This probably weighed 600
pounds when alive. I have been told that a Sword-fish loses one-third of its weight in dressing,
but I should think that one-fourth would be nearer to the truth. Captain Baker, of the schooner
"Peter D. Smith," of Gloucester, assures me that he killed, in the summer of 1874, off Portland,
a Sword-fish which weighed 750 pounds.

Mitchill and DeKay state that in 1791 a Sword-fish sixteen feet in length was exhibited in
New York. It is questionable whether they often exceed this measurement. My own observa-
tions have been made on specimens from seven to twelve feet long. A stuffed specimen in the
United States National Museum measures about ten feet, and this seems to be very nearly the
average size.

MINIMUM SIZE OF AMERICAN SWORD-FISH. The size of the smallest Sword-fishes taken on
our coast is a subject of much deeper interest, for it throws light on the time and place of breed-
ing. There is some difference of testimony regarding the average size, but all fishermen with
whom I have talked agree that very small ones do not find their way into our waters. I have col-
lected several instances from the experiences of men long wonted to this fishery.

Capt. John Eowe has seen one which did not weigh more than 75 pounds when taken out of the

Capt. 1?. H. Hurlbert killed, near Block Island, in July, 1877, one which weighed 50 pounds,
and measured about two feet without its sword.

Captain Ashby's smallest weighed about 25 pounds when dressed; this he killed off Neman's
Land. He never killed another which weighed less than 100. He tells me that a Bridgeport smack
had one weighing 16 pounds (or probably 24 when alive), and measuring eighteen inches without
its sword.


In August, 1878, a small specimen <>t' the mackerel shark, Lamna cornubica, wa captured at
the month of (Mom-ester Harbor. In its nostril was sticking the sword, about three inches long,
of n young Sword-fish. \Yhen this was pulled out the blood flowed freely, indicating that the
wound was recent. The fish to which this sword belonged cannot have exceeded ten or twelve
inches iii length, \\liether the small Sword-fish met with its misfortune in our waters, or whether

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 60 of 146)