Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Fishery Bulletin





First Page


Last Page



The identification of larval istiophorid billfishes from the western North Atlantic Ocean has long been problematic. In the present study, a molecular technique was used to positively identify 27 larval white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus), 96 larval blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), and 591 larval sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) from the Straits of Florida and the Bahamas. Nine morphometric measurements were taken for a subset of larvae (species known), and lower jaw pigment patterns were recorded on a grid. Canonical variates analysis (CVA) was used to reveal the extent to which the combination of morphometric, pigment pattern, and month of capture information was diagnostic to species level. Linear regression revealed species specific relationships between the ratio of snout length to eye orbit diameter and standard length (SL). Confidence limits about these relationships served as defining characters for sailfish >10 mm SL and for blue and white marlin >17 mm SL. Pigment pattern analysis indicated that 40% of the preflexion blue marlin examined possessed a characteristic lower jaw pigment pattern and that 62% of sailfish larvae were identifiable by lower jaw pigments alone. An identification key was constructed based on pigment patterns, month of capture, and relationships between SL and the ratio of snout length to eye orbit diameter. The key yielded identifications for 69.4% of 304 (blind sample) larvae used to test it; only one of these identifications was incorrect. Of the 93 larvae that could not be identified by the key, 71 (76.3%) were correctly identified with CVA. Although identification of certain larval specimens may always require molecular techniques, it is encouraging that the majority (92.4%) of istiophorid larvae examined were ultimately identifiable from external characteristics alone.


Mitochondrial-Dna Markers; Billfishes; Nuclear; Young