G. Brown (George Brown) Goode.

The fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) online

. (page 61 of 146)
Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 61 of 146)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the shark brought this trophy from beyond the sea, is a question I cannot answer.

Milken speaks of a very young individual taken in the Atlantic, latitude 32 50' N., longitude
74 19' W. This must be about 150 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras.

SIZE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. In the Mediterranean, near Sicily and Genoa, young fish,
ranging in weight from half a pound to twelve pounds, are said to be abundant between November
and March.

Aliout La Ciotat and Martigues, in the south of France, many are taken too small to injure
the fishing nets, and very rarely reaching the weight of 100 pounds.

From the statements of Bloch and later writers it appears that large Sword-fish also are
abundant in the Mediterranean. Late Italian fishery reports state that the average weight of
those taken on the coast of Italy is 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

Of the coasts of Spain and Portugal Steindachner remarks: " More abundant on the southern
coasts of Spain than on the northern, western, and eastern sides of the Iberian Peninsula. We
saw quite large examples in the fish-markets at Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon, La Coruna, and Barcelona,
and at Santa Cruz, Teneriffe. The largest of three specimens in my possession is forty three
inches long, another twenty-four inches." '

RATE OP GROWTH. Little is known about the rate of growth. The young fish taken in
winter in the Mediterranean, ranging in weight from half a pound to twelve pounds, are thought
to have been hatched during the previous summer. Those of a larger size, ranging from twenty-
four to sixty pounds, taken on the New England coast in the summer, may perhaps be the young
of the previous year. Beyond this, even conjecture is fruitless. As in other species, the rate of
growth depends directly upon the quantity of food consumed. It is to be presumed that a summer
passed in feasting among the crowding schools of menhaden and mackerel in our waters would
bring about a considerable increase in weight. That this is the case is clearly shown by the
testimony of the fishermen, who say that in the spring Sword-fish are thin, growing fatter and
heavier as the season goes on.

Dr. Liitken and Dr. Giinther have lately made some exceedingly interesting observations
upon the young of the Sword-fish and of the Spear-fish and Sail-fish.

Dr. Giinther's studies were made upon very small specimens of undetermined species,
belonging to either Tetrapturus, HMiophorus, or both. In his latest work, "The Study of Fishes,"
he summarizes the facts observed by him a-s follows:

"The Sword-fishes with ventral fins (HistiopJioni*) belong to the Teleosteans of the largest
size. In young individuals, nine millimeters long, both jaws are produced and armed with pointed
teeth, the supraorbital margin is ciliated, the parietal and preoperculum are prolonged into long
spines, the dorsal and anal fins are a long fringe, and the ventrals make their appearance as a pair
of short buds. When fourteen millimeters long the young fish has still the same armature of the
head, but the dorsal fin has become much higher, and the ventral filaments have grown to a great
length. At the next stage, when the fish has attained to a length of sixty millimeters, the upper
jaw is considerably prolonged beyond the lower, losing its teeth, the spines of the head are
shortened, and the fins assume nearly the shape which they retain in mature individuals.

>8itzungHb. <1. k. Akad. d. Wissensch., Weio, 1 068, p. 396.



348 NATURAL HISTOEY OP AQUATIC ANIMALS.

"Young Sword-fishes without ventral fins (Xiphias) undergo similar changes, and, besides,
their skiu is covered with small, rough excrescences, longitudinally arranged, which continue to be
visible after the young fish has attained the form of the mature in other respects."

Dr. Liitken's description of the young Sword-fishes is an exceedingly valuable contribution to
knowledge.

I have collected together, in the plates which accompany this paper, the various published
figures of young Sword-fishes, and have had them redrawn as nearly as possible to a uniform
scale.

Of the Sword-fish, Xiphias gladius, two figures are given. Oue, taken from Liitken's "Spolia
Atlantiea," is thirty -seven millimeters long; the other is a reproduction of the often-copied figure in
Cuvier and Valenciennes' "Histoire Naturelle des Poissons," twelve to eighteen inches long.
Liitkeu had a similar specimen, ten millimeters long, but it was too poorly preserved to be figured.

Of the various species of Tetrapturus and Histiophorus, six figures are given. The smallest
is that from "Spolia Atlantiea," and is of a fish five and one-half millimeters long. Liitkeu
remarks that he has a series from five and one-half to twelve millimeters long which differ
very little from each other. The next in size is copied from Giinther, and is probably about ten
millimeters long; the third, also from Giinther, is fourteen millimeters long. Liitken has another
link in the series, a specimen twenty-one millimeters long, which he has not figured. The fourth
stage is from Giinther, a specimen sixty millimeters long ; the fifth, from Cuvier and Valenciennes,
their Histiophorus pulcMlus, about four hundred and ten millimeters long; the sixth, from Eiippell,
a copy of his figure of H. immaculatus, said to be about eighteen hundred millimeters long.
These illustrations show the development in a very satisfactory manner.

ABUNDANCE AT PRESENT. For many years from three to six thousand of these fish have
been taken annually on the New England coast. It is not unusual for twenty-five or more to
be seen in the course of a single day's cruising, and sometimes as many as this are visible from
the mast-head at one time. Captain Ashby saw twenty at one time, in August, 1839, between
George's Banks and the South Shoals. One Gloucester schooner, the " Midnight," Capt. Alfred
Wixon, took fourteen in one day on George's Banks, in 1877.

Capt. John Bowe obtained twenty barrels, or four thousand pounds, of salt fish on one trip to
George's Banks; this amount represents twenty fish or more.

Captain Ashby has killed one hundred and eight Sword-fish in one year; Capt. M. C. Tripp
killed about ninety in 1874.

Such instances as these indicate in a general way the abundance of the Sword-fish. A vessel
cruising within fifty miles of our coast, between Cape May and Cape Sable, during the months
of June, July, August, and September, cannot fail, on a favorable day, to come in sight of several
of them. Mr. Earll states that the fishermen of Portland never knew them more abundant than
in 1879. This is probably, in part, due to the fact that the fishery there is of very recent origin.

ABUNDANCE IN THE PAST AND PROBABILITY OF FUTURE DECREASE. There is no evidence
of any change in their abundance, either increase or decrease. Fishermen agree that they are as
plenty as ever, nor can any change be anticipated. The present mode of fishing does not destroy
them in any considerable numbers, each individual fish being the object of special pursuit. The
solitary habits of the species will always protect them from wholesale capture, so destructive to
schooling fish. Even if this were not the case, the evidence proves that spawning Sword-fish do
not frequent our waters. When a female shad is killed, thousands of possible young die also,
The Sword-fish taken by our fishermen carry no such precious burden.

EFFECTS OF OVERFISHINO IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. A very difl'erent tale was once told of



PRESENT ABUNDANCE OF SWORD-FISH. 349

the winter fishery in the Mediterranean. Mennier quotes this testimony by Spallanzani: "I took
part many times in this fishery, and I dare not tell how many young fish are its victims; being of
no value they are thrown back into the sea, mutilated or already dead from the rubbing of the net-
meshes. I write denouncing this destructive method, and I urge forcibly the harm which results
from it. They tell me it is true that there is a law of Genoa which forbids its use, or rather its
abuse, but this does not do away with the fact that each year there sail from the Gulf of Spezzia
three or four pairs of fishiug boats which go to the sea to curry on this fishing. Still more, the
governor of the place, who should carry out this law, is the first to favor, by means of a gift of
silver^ the abuse which it is intended to prevent."

This, however, was a century ago. I have met with no complaints of decrease in the works of
litter writers, though in Targioui-Tozzetti's report, published in 1880, it is stated that there is much
opposition to the capture of small fish.

NATUBE OF FOOD. Dr. Fleming found the remains of Sepias in its stomach, and also small
li-hfs. Oppian stated that it eagerly devours the Hippnrin (probably Coryphana).

A specimen taken off Seaconnet, July 22, 1875, had in its stomach the remains of small fish,
perhaps strtinititriix triacanthus, and jaws of a squid, perhaps Loligo Pealii.

Their food in the Western Atlantic consists for the most part of the common schooling species
of fishes.

They feed on menhaden, mackerel, bonitoes, bluefish, and other species which swim in close
schools. Their habits of feeding have often been described to me by old fishermen. They are said
to rise beneath the school of small fish, striking to the right and left with their swords until they
have killed a number, which they then proceed to devour. Menhaden have been seen floating at
the surface which have been cut nearly in twain by a blow of a sword. Mr. John H. Thomson
remarks that he has seen them apparently throw the fish in the air, catching them on the fall.

Capt Benjamin Ashby says that they feed on mackerel, herring, whiting, and menhaden. He
has found half a bucketful of small fish of these kinds in the stomach of one Sword-fish. He has
seen them in the act of feeding. They rise perpendicularly out of the water until the sword and
two-thirds of the remainder of the body are exposed to view. He has seen a school of herring
crowding together at the surface on George's Banks as closely as they could be packed. A Sword-
fish came up through the dense mass and fell flat over on its side, striking many fish with the
sides of its sword. He has at one time picked up as much as a bushel of herrings thus killed by a
Sword-fish on George's Banks.

REPRODUCTION. But little is known regarding their time and place of breeding. They are
said to deposit their eggs in large quantities on the coasts of Sicily, and European writers give
their spawning time as occurring the latter part of spring and the beginning of summer. In the
Mediterranean they occur of all sizes from four hundred pounds down, and the young are so
plentiful as to become a common article of food. Except in this region the young are never taken : on
our own coast, plentiful as they are, they are never seen less than three feet, and are usually much
larger. M. Raynaud, who brought to Onvier a specimen of Histiopkorus four inches long, taken iti
January, 1829, in the Atlantic, between the Cape of Good Hope and France, reported that there
were good numbers of young Sail-fish in the place where this was taken. 1

Old fishermen who have taken and dressed them by the hundred assure me that they have
never seen traces of spawn in them. The absence of young fish and spawning females on the
coast of North America would indicate that they do not breed with us. Judging from the locations
where young fish have been taken, it seems probable that they breed in the open ocean.

1 CUVIKR &. VALBNCIKNNKS: Hint. Nt. Poise., viii, p. 305.



350 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

Meunier, 1 quoting Spallanzani, states that the Sword-fish does not approach the coast of
Sicily except in the season of reproduction ; the males are then seen pursuing the females. It is a
good time to capture them, for when the female has been taken the male lingers near and is easily
approached. The fish are abundant in the Straits of Messina from the middle of April to the
middle of September; early in the season they hug the Oalabrian shore, approaching from the
north ; after the end of June they are most abundant on the Sicilian shore, approaching from the
south.

From other circumstances, it seems certain that there are spawning grounds in the sea near
Sicily and Genoa, for from November to the 1st of March young ones are taken in the Straits of
Messina, ranging in weight from half a pound to twelve pounds.

ABSENCE OF ORDINARY HABITS OF BREEDING SEASON AMONG OUR SWORD-FISH. In the
Mediterranean, sis has been already stated, the very young fish are found from November to March,
and here from July to the middle of September the male fish are seen pursuing the female over
the shoals, and at this time the males are easily taken. Old sword-fish fishermen. Captain Ashby
and Captain Kirby, assure me that on our coast, out of thousands of specimens they have taken,
they have never seen one containing eggs. I have myself dissected several males, none of which
were near breeding time. In the European waters they are said often to be seen swimming in
pairs, male and female. Many sentimental stories were current, especially among the older writers,
concerning the conjugal affection and unselfish devotion of the Sword-fish, but these seem to have
originated in the imaginative brain of the naturalist rather than in his perceptive faculties. It is
said that when the female fish is taken the male seems devoid of fear, approaches the boat, and
allows himself easily to be taken ; but, if this be true, it appears to be the case only in the height
of the breeding season, and is easily understood. I cannot learn that two Sword-fish have ever
been seen associated together in our waters, though I have made frequent and diligent inquiry.

There is no inherent improbability, however, in this story regarding the Sword-fish in Europe,
for the same thing is stated by Professor Poey as the result of his studies upon the habits of
Tetrapturus.

A curious fancy was prevalent in former days regarding an anatomical character of the Sword-
fish. In an article by Mr. Dale in "Philosophical Transactions" (abridged edition, ii, p. 835), he
remarks: " I cannot concede it to be consonant to that Care and Industry of Nature, in providing
convenient Receptacles for preserving the Foetus; neither is it agreeable to Reason to believe, that
when Nature had provided an Uterus in all Animals, not only the Viviparous, and such as only
cherish the Embryo in Utero, but in the Oviparous also and Insects, the Eel and the Xiphia, or
Sword-fish, should be the only Animals without it."

ENEMIES AND FATALITIES: PUGNACITY. The pugnacity of the Sword-fish has become a
by-word. Without any special effort on my part the following instances of their attacks upon
vessels have in the last six years found their way into the pigeon-hole labeled " Sword-fish."

JSelian says (b. xxxii, c. 6) that the Sword-fish has a sharp-pointed snout, with which it is
able to pierce the sides of a ship and send it to the bottom, instances of which have been known
near a place in Mauritania known as Cotte, not far from the river Lixus, on the African side of the
Mediterranean. He describes the sword as like the beak of the ship known as the trireme, which
was rowed with three banks of oars.

One of the earliest accounts is that given in the second part of vol. i, lib. ii, p. 89, 1615, of
"Purchas his Pilgriraes":

"The sixth Circura- Navigation, by William Cornelisou Schovten of Home; who Sovthwards

'Lea Grandee Pechea, p. 142.



BRKKIUNO HABITS OF SWORD -FISH. 351

from tin; Straights of Magelan in Tierra-Delfvogo, fovnd and discovered a new passage through
tin' jjn-.it Suvtli SIM, and that way sailed rovnd about the World," etc.

Off the rou.-l of Sierra Leoue:

The lift of October we were vnder foure degrees seueu and tweutie minutes, the same day
about-noonr, thriv was such a uoyse in the Bough of our Shippe, that the master, being behind in
tin- (l.illn ir. thought that one of the men had fallen out of the Fore-ship, or from the Boe-sprit
into tin- sea, but as hee looked out over the side of the Ship bee saw the Sea all red, as if great
store of bloud had beene powred into it, whereat hee woudred, knowing not what it meant, but
afterward hee found, that a great Fish or a Sea monster having a borne had therewith stricken
against the ship with most great strength. For when we were in Porto Desire where we set the
Ship on the Strand to make it cleane, about seven foot under water, before in the Ship, wee found
a Home Mil-king in the Ship, much like for thicknesse and fashion to a common Elephants tooth,
not hollow, but lull, very strong hard Bone, which had entered into three Plaukes of the Ship,
that is two thicke Plankes of greeue and one of Okeu wood, and so into a Rib, where it turned
upward, to our great good fortune, for if it had entered between the Kibbes, it would happily have
made a greater Hole and have brought both Ship and men in danger to be lost. It strucke at
least halfe a foote deepe into the Ship and about half a foote without, where, with great force it
\s as broken off, by reason whereof the great monster bled so much."

More than a century later C. Mortimer, M. D., records this experience :

-.Mr. Baukley showed me the Horn of a Fish that had penetrated above 8 inches into the
Timber of a Ship and gave me the following Relation of it: 'His MAJESTY'S Ship Leopard, having
been at the Went Indies and on the Coast of Guiney, was ordered by Warrant from the Honourable
Xncy -Board, dated Aug. 18, 1721, to be cleaned and refitted at Portsmout for Channel-Service:
Pursuant thereto, she was put into the great Stone-dock; and, in stripping off her Sheathing, the
Shipwrights found something that was uncommon in her Bottom, about 8 Feet from her Keel, just
before the Fore Mast ; which they searching into, found the Bone or Part of the Horn of a Fish of
the Figure here described; the Outside Rough not unlike Seal- Skin; and the End, where it was
broken off shewed itself like coarse Ivory. The Fish is supposed to have followed the Ship, when
under Sail, because the Sharp End of the Horn pointed toward the Bow: It penetrated with that
Swiftness or Strength that it went through the Sheathing 1 Inch thick, the Plank 3 Inches thick,
and into the Timber, 4J inches.'" 1

Don Joseph Cornide, in his " Ensayo de una Historia de los Peces de la Costa de Galicia,"
1787:

"This fish is taken in the seas of Qalicia, where it is more common toward the Rio de Vigo,
where it is well known that the 'Balandia' (a small fishing vessel), of S. M. le Ardilla, was pierced in
its side and sunk by the arm of one of these fishes, which is preserved in the Royal Cabinet of
Natural History."

The following statement is from the note book of Professor Baird :

In 1871 the little yacht "Redhot," of New Bedford, was out sword-fish fishing, and a Sword-fish
had been hauled in to be lanced, and it attacked the vessel and pierced the side so as (o sink the
\ i-isel. She was repaired and used in the service of the Commission at Wood's Holl.

Couch quotes the personal statement of a gentleman, who says:

"We have had the pleasure of inspecting a piece of wood cut out of one of the fore plauks of
a vessel (the ' Priscilla,' from Pemambuco) through which was struck about eighteen inches of

'An account of the bom of a Fish struck several luches into the aide of a Ship, by C. Mortiu er, M. D., F. R. 8.
Philos. Trans., xl, No. 4*51, p.<*>2, 1741. Abr. ed., ix, p. 7^.



352 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

the bony weapon of the Sword-fish. The force with which it must have been driven in affords a
striking exemplification of the power and ferocity of the fish. The 'Priscilla' is quite a new
vessel. Captain Taylor, her commander, states that when near the A/ores, as he was walking the
quarter-deck at night, a shock was felt which brought all hands from below, under the impression
that the ship had touched upon some rock. This was, no doubt, when the occurrence took p"lace."

The New York Herald of May 11, 1871, states:

"The English ship 'Queensberry' has been struck by a Sword fish, which penetrated to a
depth of thirty inches, causing a leak which necessitated the discharge of the cargo."

The "London Daily News of December" 11, 1868, contained the following paragraph, which
emanated, I suspect, from the pen of Prof. R. A. Proctor :

'.'Last Wednesday the court of common pleas rather a strange place, by the by, for inquiring
into the natural history of fishes was engaged for several hours in trying to determine under
what circumstances a Sword-fish might be able to escape scot-free after thrusting his snout into
the side of a ship. The gallant ship ' Dreadnought,' thoroughly repaired and classed Al at Lloyd's,
had been insured for 3,000 against all the risks of the seas. She sailed ou March 10, 1864, from
Colombo, for London. Three days later the crew, while fishing, hooked a Sword-fish. Xiphias,
however, broke the line, and a few moments after leaped half out of the water, with the object, it
should seem, of taking a look at his persecutor, the ' Dreadnought.' Probably he satisfied himself
that the enemy was some abnormally large cetacean, which it was his natural duty to attack forth-
with. Be this as it may, the attack was made, and at four o'clock the next morning the captain was
awakened with the unwelcome intelligence that the ship had sprung a leak. She was taken back
to Colombo, and thence to Cochin, where she was hove down. Near the keel was found a round
hole, an inch in diameter, running completely through the copper sheathing and planking.

"As attacks by Sword-fish are included among sea-risks, the insurance company was willing
to pay the damages claimed by the owners of the ship if only it could be proved that the hole had
really been made by a Sword-fish. No instance had ever been recorded in which a Sword-fish had
been able to withdraw his sword after attacking a ship. A defense was founded on the possibility
that the hole had been made in some other way. Professor Owen and Mr. Frank Bucklaud gave
their evidence, but neither of them could state quite positively whether a Sword-fish which had
passed its beak through three inches of stout planking could withdraw without the loss of its
sword. Mr. Buckland said that fish have no power of 'backing,' and expressed his belief that he
could hold a Sword-fish by the beak; but then he admitted that the fish had considerable lateral
power, and might so ' wriggle its sword out of the hole.' And so the insurance company will have
to pay nearly 600 because an ill-tempered fish objected to be hooked, and took it srevenge by
running full tilt against copper sheathing and oak planking."

"The Gloucester schooner ' Wyoming,' on a last trip to George's Banks," records the ' New York
World' of August 31, 1875, " was attacked by a Sword-fish in the night-time. He assailed the vessel
with great force, and succeeded in putting his sword through one of her planks some two feet, and,
after making fearful struggles to extricate himself, broke his sword off, leaving it hard and fast in
the plank, and made a speedy departure. Fortunate was it that he did not succeed in drawing
out his sword, as the aperture would undoubtedly have made a leak sufficient to sink the vessel.
As it was, she leaked badly, requiring pretty lively pumping to keep her free."

Another instance of a similar nature is this, which was recorded in the " Liverpool Mercury "
about the year 187H :

"Mr. J. J. Harwood, master of the British brigautine ' Fortunate,' in dock at Liverpool, reports
that whilst on his passage from the Rio Grande, when in latitude 20 12' north and longitude 47



DKSTKn TIYKNKSS OF TI1K S\VOHI>-FISH. 353

'.' west, this ship was struck liy a large tisli, which made the vessel shake very much. Thinking the
ship had been merch struck by the tail of some sea-monster, he took no further notice of the
mattci ; but, alter discharging cargo at Huncoru, and coming into the Canada half-tide dock, he
found one of the plank ends in the stern split, and on closer examination he discovered that a
Sword-tisli |i:id driven his sword completely through the plank, four inches in thickness, leaving
the point of the sword nearly eight inches through the plank. The fish in its struggle broke the
sword off level with the outside of the vessel, and by its attack upon the ship lost nearly afoot
length of the very dangerous weapon with which it was armed. There is no doubt that this some-
what singular occurrence took place when the vessel was struck as Captain Harwood describes."
In "Forest and Stream" of June 24, 1875, was recorded the following incident:



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 61 of 146)