Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Recent studies have demonstrated that the morphologically similar white marlin (Kajikia albida) and roundscale spearfish (Tetrapturus georgii) co-occur in the western North Atlantic, including the U.S. Mid‐Atlantic Bight. Differences in scale morphology have been proposed as one morphological character to discriminate these species, but a thorough analysis of scale morphology is lacking. Because the validity of the roundscale spearfish was not established until 2006, much of the biological information previously collected for “white marlin” may include data for both white marlin and roundscale spearfish. The objectives of this study were to obtain a better understanding of the movements and habitat utilization of positively identified white marlin that inhabit the U.S. Mid-­‐Atlantic Bight during summer months, and to describe the morphological variation of white marlin and roundscale spearfish scales.

Eleven long‐term (6 or 12 month) pop-up satellite archival tags were placed on white marlin that were caught and released in the U.S. recreational fishery. Nine tags reported information on temperature, pressure (depth), and light levels for light‐based geolocation for periods of 8 days to 12 months. Most fish moved out of the Mid-Atlantic Bight in September, and overwintered in areas ranging from east of the Gulf Stream off the Carolinas to the Caribbean, and as far south as northern Brazil. of the seven fish that retained tags for more than 40 days, five spent time in known spawning grounds in waters of the Dominican Republic leading up to the spring spawning season. These data demonstrate a large degree of connectivity among white marlin in the western North Atlantic. as noted in previous studies, individuals spent a large proportion of their time in the surface waters (0-10m; 75% across all white marlin pooled), the vast majority of their time in the top 100 m of the water column (97%), and within eight degrees of sea surface temperature (98%), although definite shifts in habitat utilization were evident as fish departed coastal offshore waters of the Mid‐Atlantic Bight. Diel habitat utilization varied greatly, with white marlin spending 81% of total nighttime in the surface waters (0‐10m), and only 26% of total daytime in surface waters.

Past studies have characterized the scales of white marlin and roundscale spearfish as being morphologically distinct, but little effort has been made to describe variation within an individual, among individuals, or between species. to better understand morphological variation of scales and squamation patterns of distinct body regions of these two species, individual scales were collected from 11 specific anatomical regions, and scale patches were collected from 3 specific regions of each white marlin and roundscale spearfish brought into marlin tournament weigh stations in the Mid-Atlantic Bight during 2012 and 2013. Scales were measured and described, and scale patches were cleared and stained to examine the level of imbrication of the scales, as well as the overall squamation patterns. In addition to the scales, denticular plates, ossified formations occurring on the surface layer of the dermis, were measured and described. Although considable morphological variation was observed among scales from different anatomical regions of individuals of both species, white marlin scales generally have pointed anterior ends, fewer posterior points, and are more heavily imbricated than those of roundscale spearfish, which are frequently rounded anteriorly, but often have many posterior points and are farther separated within the skin. Over all areas and individuals, roundscale spearfish scales were significantly wider and had a lower length-­‐to-­‐width aspect ratio than those of white marlin. Detailed scale descriptions allow for a more accurate characterization of the variation within and differences between these two species, and could potentially be a valuable tool for investigating istiophorid systematics.



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