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"On Wednesday of last week a Sword-fish attacked the fishing-boat of Capt. D. D. Thurlow
while he was hauling mackerel-nets off Fire Island, thrust its sword clear through the bottom, and
stuck fast, while the fishermen took several half-hitches around its body and so secured it. It was
afterwards brought to Fulton Market, and found to weigh three hundred and ninety pounds. Its
sword measured three feet and seven inches, and its entire length was over eleven feet. The
stuffed skin will adorn the Central Park Musuom."

In the "Landmark," of Norfolk, Virginia, February, 1876, was mentioned a similar occurrence:
"The brig 'P. M. Tinker,' Captain Bernard, previously mentioned as having arrived here from
Richmond, leaking, for repairs, has been hauled up on the ways at Graves' ship-yard. On exami-
nation it was discovered that the leak was caused by a Sword fish, the sword being found broken
off forward the bands, about sixteen feet abaft the forefoot. The fish, in striking the vessel, must
have come with great force, as the sword penetrated the copper sheathing, a four-inch birch
plank, and through the timbers about six inches in all about (en inches. It occurred on the
morning of the 23d of December, when the brig was eighteen days out from Rio, and in the neigh-
borhood of Cape Saint Roque. She was pumped about four o'clock in the morning, and found
free of water. About six o'clock the same morning she was again pumped, when water was
obtained, and on examination it was found that she had made ten inches of water. The men were
kept steady at the pumps until her arrival at llichmond, and while there, and on her trip here,"
Mr. Willard Nye, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, sends the following note :
"A few years ago Captain Dyer, of New Bedford, struck a Sword-fish, from a thirty-foot boat,
forty miles southwest of Noman's Land, threw overboard the keg, tacked, and stood by to the
windward of it. When nearly abreast of it the man at the mast-head called out, Why, here he is,
right alongside.' The fish was then about. ten feet from the boat, and swimming in the same direc-
tion, but when he got where he could see the splash of water around the bow he turned and struck
the boat about two feet from the stern and just below the water-line. The sword went through the
planking, which was of cedar an inch and three-quarters thick, into a lot of loose iron ballast,
In-caking off short at the fish's head. A number of boats, large and small, have been 'stove' by
Sword-fish on our coast, but always after the fish had been struck."

A nameless writer in " Harper's Weekly," October 25, 1879, narrates these instances, for which
I am unable to give the original authority:

In a calm day in the summer of 1832, on the coast of Massachusetts, a pilot was rowing his
little skiff leisurely along, when he was suddenly roused from his seat by a thrust from below by a
Sword fish, who drove his sharp instrument more than three feet up through the bottom. With rare
presence of mind, with the butt of an oar he broke it off level with the floor before the fish had
time to withdraw it. Fortunately, the thrust was not directly upward. Had it been so, the frail
boat would have been destroyed.
23 P


"A Boston ship hauled up on the ways for repair, a few years 1 since, presented the shank of a
Sword-fish's dagger, which had been driven considerably far into the solid oak plank. A more
curious aft'air was brought to light in 1725 in overhauling His Majesty's ship 'Leopard,' from the
coast of Africa. The sword of this marine spearsmau had pierced the sheathing one inch, next it
went through a throe-inch plank, and beyond that three inches and a half into the firm timber.
It was the opinion of the mechanics that it would have required nine strokes of a hammer weigh-
ing twenty-five pounds to drive an iron bolt of the same dimensions to the same depth in the hull.
Yet the fish drove it at a single thrust.

"On the return of the whale-ship 'Fortune' to Plymouth, Massachusetts, iu 1827, the stump
of a sword blade of this fish was noticed projecting like a cog outside, which, on being traced, had
been driven through the copper sheathing, an inch board undersheathing, a three-inch plank of
hard wood, the solid white-oak timber twelve inches thick, then through another two and a half
inch hard-oak ceiling, and lastly penetrated the head of an oil-cask, where it stuck, not a drop of
the oil having escaped."

Such instances could be found by the score, if one had the time and patience to search. The
thing happens many times a year, and nearly as often affords a text for some paragrapher or local
editor. ,

ENEMIES. Such a large animal as the Sword-fish can have but few antagonists whose attacks
would be disastrous. The tunny or horse-mackerel, Orcynus thynnus, other Sword-fishes, and
sharks are its only peers in size, and of these the sharks are probably its worst foes.

Capt. N. E. Atwood exhibited to the Boston Society of Natural History, December 7, 1864,
the lower jaw of a large shark, taken at Provincetown, Massachusetts, in whose stomach nearly
the whole of a large Sword-fish was found. Some ten or twelve wounds were noticed in the skin
of the shark, giving an idea of the conflict. The shark was doubtless Galeocerdo tigrinus.

Couch was told by a sailor that he had watched with interest the anxious motions of one as it
was followed closely and rapidly in all its turnings by a blue shark. Twice did it leap above the
surface to escape the near approach of its pursuer, but with what success at last the observer had
no opportunity of knowing.

Mr. John H. Thomson states that the Bill-fish (probably Tetrapturus albidus) is their especial
enemy. Bill fish, six to twelve feet long, appear about the last of the season, and their appear-
ance is a signal that the Sword-fish are about leaving.

INVERTEBRATE PARASITES OF THE SWORD-FISH. Aristotle thus explains the leaping move-
ments of the fish : "The tunny and the Xiphias suffer from the oestrus at the rising of the dog star,
for both these fish at this season have beneath their fins a little worm which is called oastrus,
which resembles a scorpion, and is about the size of a spider; they sutfer so much from this
torment that the Xiphias leaps out of the sea as high as the dolphin, and in this manner fre-
quently falls ui)on our ships."

This description of the parasite is somewhat vague; yet it is evident that allusion is made to
one of the Lerneans or gill-lice, little crustaceans remotely resembling crabs and lobsters, which
attach themselves to the gills and skin of many kinds of fishes, sucking the blood from their veins,
and often causing death; dreadful to their victims as was their namesake, the fabled Leruean
Hydra, to the Argives of old, and not to be destroyed by any piscine Hercules and lolaus.

In one of the early volumes of the " Philosophical Transactions" is an account by S. Paulo
Boccoue of "an extraordinary Sanguisuga, or Leech, found sometimes sticking fast in the Fish
called Xiphia or Sword-fish," It is described as "about four Inches long, the Belly of it white,
cartilaginous and transparent, without Eyes or Head, but instead of a Head it had a hollow Snout,


encompass^! with a very hard Membrane; which Snout it thrusts whole into the Body of tho
Fish, as strongly as an Anyre is wound into a piece of Wood, and fills it full of Blood into the
very Oriiice." Hi- names it "Z/irudo" or ".dew* cauda utrinque pcnnata." '

A specimen taken oil' Seaconnct, July 22, 1875, had fluke-worms in the external coat of the
stomach and in the air-bladder.

The Sword -tish is infested by many species of invertebrate parasites. Some hang on the gills,
others fasten themselves to different parts of the alimentary canal the esophagus, the stomach,
and the intestines; ami others still bore into the flesh. Several species, as might be expected
from the size of the flsh, are among the giants of their races. All undoubtedly cause more or
less pain to their host, but especially those which attach themselves to the gills, disturbing their
action and destroying their substance.

The parasites of the Sword-fish, for convenience, may be classified in two groups, the worm-
like para>ites (Hflininthes) and the crustacean parasites.

FISH-PAUASITES THE SUCKERS OB REMORA8. Several species of "stay-ships" or "remoraa"
occur on our coast. The ordinary kinds, such as Echeneis naucrates, the one with a black stripe
down its side, and white corners to its caudal fin, appears to choose companionship with the
sharks, while the oceanic species, Remora squalipela, is most often found clinging to ships.

A third secies, Remora brachyptera, is the particular parasite of the Sword-fish. I have
several times identified specimens found attached to the fish, and have never known this species
to be found on any other member of the family. It has never come to us, moreover, from locality
and season which would be inconsistent with a theory that it had been brought near shore by a

Still another, Rhombochirus osteochir, seems equally inseparable from Tetrapturus albidus.
This fact is known to the Cuban fishermen, who call it by the name Pega de las Agujas the
parasite of the Spear-fish.

Perhaps the two species are not so steadiest in their likings that they will not change from
Xiphias to Tetrapturus. My friend Professor Giglioli, of Florence, who speaks of R. brachyptera
as a fish new to the Mediterranean, obtained from Taranto a specimen said to have been taken
from the gills (operenlumf) of Tetrapturus belone.

These parasites probably prefer to cling with their curious suckers to the hard exterior surface
of the opercular flap of the Sword-fish.

SWORD-FISH AS AN ARTICLE OP FOOD. " The small Sword-fish is very good meat," remarked
Josselyn, in writing of the fishes of New England in the seventeenth century. Since Jossclyn
probably never saw a young Sword-fish, unless at some time he had visited the Mediterranean,
it is fair to suppose that his information was derived from some Italian writer.

It is, however, a fact that the flesh of the Sword-fish, though somewhat oily, is a very accept-
able article of food. Its texture is coarse; the thick, fleshy, muscular layers cause it to resemble
that of the halibut in consistency. Its flavor is by many considered fine, and is not unlike that of
the bluefish. Its color is gray. The meat of the young flsh is highly prized on the Mediterranean,
and is said to be perfectly white, compact, and of delicate flavor. 1 Sword-fish are usually cut up
into steaks, thick slices across the body, and may be broiled or boiled.

'Philosophical Transactions, Vol. U,p. 821.

8 Thc flesh, which is much esteemed by the bettor classes at Palermo, is dressed in almost as many modes as that
of the tunny, and fetches a higher price. During our sojourn there it was as two to one, the price of the first
averaging fonrpence per robolo, while the poro/iai of the latter were disposed of at twopence or twopence-half-
penny. The fiber is invitingly white, and the round segments look, as they lie in rows along the stalls, like so many
fillets of veal. Four to six feet is the usual run of those taken off the Trinserian coast and displayed in the fish-
inarkets of Sicily. BADHAM.


Considerable quantities of Sword-fish are annually salted in barrels in Portland, Gloucester,
Boston, New Bedford, and New London. Sword-fish pickled in brine is in considerable demand
in certain sections of the country, and particularly in Lower Connecticut Valley, where a barrel
may be found in almost every grocery store. By many persons it is considered much more
palatable than salted mackerel.


Strange as it may seem, the American species of Histiophorus has never been studied by an
ichthyologist, and no attempt has ever been made to describe it or to compare it carefully with
the similar species occurring in the Indian Ocean. The identity of the two has been assumed
by Dr. Gunther, 1 but since no American specimens have ever been seen by this authority, I hesi-
tate for the present to follow his lead.

The history of the Sail-fish in ichthyological literature is as follows:

The first allusion to the genus occurs in Piso's "Historia Naturalis Brasilia?," printed at
Amsterdam in 1648. In this book* may be found an identifiable though rough figure of the
American species, accompanied by a few lines of description, which, though good, when the fact
that they were written in the seventeenth century is brought to mind, are of no value for critical

The name given to the Brazilian Sail-fish by Marcgrave, the talented young German who
described the fishes in the book referred to, and who afterward sacrificed his life in exploring the
unknown fields of American zoology, was Guebucu brasiliensibm. The use of the name Guebucu is
interesting, since it gives a clew to the derivation of the name ''Boohoo," by which this fish, and
probably the Spear-fishes, are known to English-speaking sailors in the tropical Atlantic.

Sail-fishes were observed in the East Indies by Renard and Valentijn, explorers of that region
from 1680 to 1720, and by other eastern voyagers. No species of the genus was, however, sys-
tematically described until 1786, when a stuffed specimen from the Indian Ocean, eight feet long,
was taken to London, where it still remains in the collections of the British Museum. From this
specimen M. Broussonet prepared a description, giving it the name Scomber gladiws, rightly
regarding it as a species allied to the mackerel.

In 1803 Lac6pe<le established the genus Histiophorus for the reception of this species. .

When Cuvier and Valenciennes published the eighth volume of their Natural History of
Fishes, they ignored the name gladius, which had been given to the East Indian fish by Brous-
sonet, redescribing it under the name Histiophorus indicus. At the same time they founded
another species upon the figure in Piso's Natural History of Brazil, already mentioned. This they
called Histiophorus americanus.

'Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum, ii, 1860, p. 513.

* 1648. Piso and MARCGRAVE :

Historia Naturalis | lirasilim, | Auepicio et Beneficio | Illnstrisa. | Manritii Com. Nassau | illius Provincira et
Maris snmmi Profacti Adornata: | In qua | Non tan turn Plants) et Aninialia, Bed et In- ] digenarum morbi, ingenia et
mores describuntnr et | Iconibns qnngentns illustrantnr | (Elaborate engraved title-page, upon which the preceding
inscription is inserted upon a scroll, the following upon a shell.) Lvgdvn Batauorum, | Apud Franciscum Hackium, |
et | Amstelodami, | Apnd Lud. Elzevirium. 1648. | 1 pp. (13), 122, (2), (8), 293, (7).

.Second title.

Qnilielmi Pisonis, M. D. | Lugduno-Batavi, | de Medicina Brasiliensi | Libri Quatuor: [ I. Do Aere, Aquis <&
Locis | II. De Morbia Endemiis. | III. Venenatis & Antidotis. | IV. De Facultatibus Simplicium | et Georgi Marc-
gravi de Liebgtad, | Misnici German!, | Histories Rerum Natural nun | Brasilia) | Libri octo: | Quorum | TITS priores
agunt de Plantis. | Quart us de Piscibns. | Qnintns de Avibiis. | Sextns de Quadropedibus & Serpentibns. | Septimus de
Insectis. | Octavas de Ipsa Regione, & Illius Incolis. | Cum j Appeudice de Tapuyis, et Chilensibus. | loanues de
Lict, | Antwerpianns, | In ordinem digessit & Annotation addidit, & varies ab Anctore | Omigsa snpplevit &


In a paper printed in 1833, Dr. Nardo, of Venice, proposed the establishment of a new genus
allied to Tttnipturus and Xiphiax, to be called Skeponopodu*. In this he included the fish described
by Marcgravo under the name Skeponopodtix guebucu, and also a form observed by him in the
Adriatic in 1SL'!), which he called S. typus. I ain not aware that ichthyologists have yet learned
what t'uis may have Ueen. 1

From the time of Marcgrave until 1872 it does not appear that any zoologist had any oppor-
tunity to study a Sail-fish from America, or even from the Atlantic; yet in Giinther's "Catalogue"
the name H. americanus is discarded and the species of America is assumed to be identical with
that of the Indian Ocean.*

Giinther restores Lac6pede's name, H. gladiux, for the Indian species. Possibly, indeed
probably, this name will be found to include the Sail-fish of our own coast. At present, however,
it seems desirable to retain a separate name. To unite species from widely distant localities
without ever having seen them is very disastrous to a proper understanding of the problems of
geographical distribution.

The materials in the National Museum consist of a skeleton and a painted plaster cast of the
specimen taken near Newport, Rhode Island, in 1872, and a drawing made of the same, while fresh,
by Mr. J. H. Blake.

The occurrence of the Sail-fish is, as has been already stated, very unusual. Marcgrave saw
it in Brazil as early as 1G48. Sagra and Poey mention that it has been seen about Cuba, and
Schomburg includes it in his Barbados list. The specimen in the United States National Museum
was taken off Newport, Rhode Island, in August, 1872, and given to Professor Baird by Mr. Samuel
Powell, of Newport. No others were observed in our waters until March, 1878, when, according
to Mr. Neyle Habershain, of Savannah, Georgia, two were taken by a vessel between Savannah
and Indian River, Florida, and were brought to Savannah, where they attracted much attention
in the market. In 1873, according to Mr. E. G. Blackford, a specimen in a very mutilated condi-
tion was brought from Key West to New York City.

MOVEMENTS OF SAIL-FISHES. No observations have been made in this country, and recourse
must be had to the statements of observers in the other hemisphere.

In the life of Sir Stamford Raffles there is the following account from Singapore, under date of
November 30, 1822:

"The only amusing discovery we have recently made is that of a sailing fish, called by the
natives Ikan layer, of about ten or twelve feet long, which hoists a mainsail, and often sails in the
manner of a native boat, and with considerable swiftness. I have sent a set of the sails home, as
they are beautifully cut and form a model for a fast-sailing boat. When a school of these are
under sail together they are frequently mistaken for a fleet of native boats."

The fish referred to is in all likelihood Histiopliorus gladius, a species very closely related to,
if not identical with, our own.


This species appears to be limited to the waters of the Mediterranean. It was not noticed by
Liunajus, or indeed by any of the binomial writers before Schneider. In his posthumous edition
of the writings of Bloch, the latter has made reference to a figure and description in Duhamel,
and has given to a fish, which he figures in Plate XXI of this work, the maine Xiphias imperator.

1 Irit, 1833, Heft iv, pp. 415-419.

The specimens in the British Museum are catalogued as follows: a. Eight feet long ; stuffed. Indian Ocean.
Type of the species, b. Seven feet long ; stuffed. Cape of Good Hope. c. Dorsal fin. N. 8. Wales (T). Presented
by Dr. 6. Bennett, d. Snout ; dried.


This name was rejected by Cuvier (Eegne Animal, I. c.), and has not been recognized by later
writers. It seems to me, however, that Schneider lias, perhaps unintentionally, yet quite intelli-
gibly, expressed the principal differential characters of Tetrapturus. By "dorso scabro" he covers
the question of the scales; by "carina caudali nulla" he refers to the absence of the single caudal
cariua of Xiphias, while by figure and by implication in his description he admits the presence of
ventral fins. His figure, though bad, is as good as most of the old figures of Xiphias that in
Lac^pede, for example.

T. imperator is said to attain the length of five or six feet, and the weight of one hundred and
fifty pounds. It has been taken in the Straits of Messina with the harpoon, but according to
Eafiuesque is very rarely seen on the coasts of Sicily, and then only in autumn, when it is follow-
ing the dolphin and flying-fish, upon which it feeds. It is ordinarily seen in pairs, male and
female together, and they are taken often in the nets together. Its flesh is white, but not partic-
ularly well flavored. At Messina it is called "Aguglia imperiale" (Cuvier and Valenciennes).

Two species have been described by Poey from Cuba, one of which, T. albidus, is not uncom-
mon on the Atlantic coast of the United States. Liitken is disposed to consider them both iden-
tical with the T. indicus type, and it seems to me that there is as much reason for doing this as for
throwing together the Sail-fishes of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as has been persistently done
by all writers on ichthyology.

Many individuals are taken every year by the sword-fish fishermen of New England, and they
also frequently find their way into the pounds along the coast.

MOVEMENTS OF SPEAE-FISHES. The Spear-fish in our waters is said by the fishermen to
resemble the Sword-fish in its movements and manner of feeding. Professor Poey narrates that
both the Cuban species swim at a depth of one hundred fathoms, and they journey in pairs,
shaping their course toward the Gulf of Mexico, the females being full of eggs. Only adults are
taken. It is not known whence they come, or where they breed, or how the young return. It is
not even known whether the adult fishes return by the same route. When the fish has swallowed
the hook it rises to the surface, making prodigious leaps and plunges. At last it is dragged to
the boat, secured with a boat-hook, and beaten to death before it is hauled on board. Such fishing
is not without danger, for the Spear-fish sometimes rushes upon the boat, drowning the fisherman,
or wounding him with its terrible weapon. The fish becomes furious at the appearance of sharks,
which are its natural enemies. They engage in violent combats, and when the Spear-fish is
attached to the fisherman's line it often receives frightful wounds from these adversaries.

In "Land and Water" for August 31, 1872, Col. Nicholas Pike, author of "Subtropical Ram-
bles," at that time United States consnl at Mauritius, describes the habits of a species of Tetrapturus
occurring in that vicinity. He states that they have the habit of resting quietly on the surface in
calm weather, with their dorsals expanded and acting as sails. They are taken in deep water with
hook and line, or speared when near the surface, like Sword-fish. When hooked or speared they
make for the boats, taking tremendous leaps in the air, and if care is not taken they will jump into
the boats, to the great consternation of the fishermen, or else pierce the boats with their bills.
The fish is highly esteemed in the Mauritius, the flesh being of a salmon-color near the vertebrae;
lower down it is red and like coarse beef. The species attains a large size, one having been seen
measuring twenty-six feet.

PUGNACITY OP THE SPEAB-FISH. The Spear-fish strikes vessels in the same manner as the
Sword-fish. I am indebted to Capt. William Spicer, of Noank, Connecticut, for this note:

"Mr. William Taylor, of Mystic, a man seventy-six years old, who was in the smack 'Ever-
green,' Capt. John Appleman, tells me that they started from Mystic, October 3, 1832, on a fishing


voyage to Key West, in company with the smack 'Morning Star,' Captain Rowland. On the 12th
they were oft' ('ape. Hatteras, the wind blowing heavily from the northeast, and the smack under
double reefed sails. At ten o'clock in the evening they were struck by a 'Woho' (wo), which
shocked the vessel all over. The smack was leaking badly, and they made a signal to the
Morning Star' to keep close by them. The next morning they found the leak, and both smacks
kept oft' to Charleston. On arrival they took out the ballast, hove her out, and found that the
sword had gone through the planking, timber, and ceiling. The plank was two inches thick, the
timber five inches, and the ceiling one and a half inches white oak. The sword projected two
inches through the ceiling, on the inside of the 'after- run.' 1 It struck close by a butt on the
outside, which caused the leak. They took out and replaced a piece of the plank, and proceeded
on their voyage."

J. Matthew Jones, esq., of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in his delightful little book "The Naturalist
in Bermuda," records the case of the Bermudian schooner "Earl Dundonald," arrived in the

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 62 of 146)