It's obvious how swordfish got their name. However, contrary to popular belief the fish do not use their sharp beak to spear. Instead the "sword" may be used to slash at prey to injure it and make for an easier catch. But mainly swordfish rely on their agility in the water and great speed (up to 50 mph) to catch prey.
One possible defensive use for the sword-like bill is for protection from its few natural predators. The shortfin mako shark is one of the rare sea creatures big enough and fast enough to chase down and kill an adult swordfish, but they don't always win. Sometimes in the struggle with a shark a swordfish can kill it by ramming it in the gills or belly.
Swordfish are not schooling fish. They swim alone or in very loose aggregations, separated by as much as 10 meters from a neighboring swordfish. They are frequently found basking at the surface, airing their first dorsal fin. Boaters report this to be a beautiful sight, as is the powerful jumping for which the species is known. This jumping, also called breaching, is thought by some researchers to be an effort to dislodge pests, such as remora or lampreys. It could also be a way of surface feeding by stunning small fish as they jump out of the water, making the fish more easily captured for food.
Swordfish feed daily, most often at night when they rise to surface and near-surface waters in search of smaller fish. They have been observed moving through schools of fish, thrashing their swords to kill or stun their prey and then quickly turning to consume their catch. In the western North Atlantic, squid is the most popular food item consumed. But fish, such as menhaden, mackerel, bluefish, silver hake, butterfish, and herring also contribute to the swordfish diet.
A decade ago swordfish were thought to be in danger, largely due to their popularity on restaurant menus. The highly successful "Give Swordfish a Break" campaign resulted in 750 prominent U.S. chefs agreeing to remove North Atlantic swordfish from their menus. Subsequently, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a swordfish protection plan and the federal government declared 132,670 square miles of the Atlantic ocean off-limits to fishing. As a result, swordfish have made a significant comeback in the North Atlantic and are now rated a "Best Choice" by Seafood WATCH.
Grilled swordfish with an avocado, jumbo crab, and red chile salad with cilantro vinaigrette over a sweet corn and bell pepper relish. Thursday thru Sunday, or until it sells out (call ahead to reserve). Only at the Rookery!