Swordfish vs Shark: Key Differences
Here are the main ways that swordfish and sharks differ:
|1 (Xiphias gladius)
|Over 500 species
|Elongated, rounded bill
|No teeth as adults
|Multiple rows of serrated teeth
|Up to 14 ft, 1000+ lbs
|Varies greatly by species
|Coastal, deep sea, coral reefs
|Fish, squid, crustaceans
|Varies by species
|Slash with bill
|Bite with teeth
|Varies by species
- Species: Swordfish belong to the billfish family Xiphiidae, while sharks belong to the elasmobranch group (which includes rays). There are over 500 shark species but only 1 swordfish species.
- Appearance: Swordfish have a distinctive elongated, round bill and a large dorsal fin. Sharks have a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body and multiple rows of serrated teeth.
- Size: Swordfish grow up to 14 feet long and can weigh over 1000 lbs. Great white sharks reach over 20 feet and 5000 lbs. But many shark species are much smaller.
- Habitat: Swordfish inhabit the open ocean waters of tropical and temperate zones. Sharks live in diverse aquatic habitats from shallow coastal regions to the deep sea.
- Hunting: Swordfish slash at prey with their bill. Sharks grab prey with their sharp teeth and powerful jaws.
- Diet: Swordfish eat fish, squid, and crustaceans. Shark diets range widely by species from fish to seals and even plankton.
- Speed: Swordfish reach speeds over 60 mph. Some sharks like makos can swim over 60 mph but most sharks are slower.
So while swordfish and some sharks share large size, speed, and predatory habits, they belong to very different taxonomic groups with distinct anatomies and behaviors.
Can a Swordfish Kill a Shark?
Yes, there is evidence that swordfish can attack and even kill sharks in rare instances:
- Swordfish bills have been found impaled in dead shark bodies, indicating they inflicted fatal injuries.
- The first documented case was in 1960, with other verified incidents since, usually in the Mediterranean as prey declines.
- Sharks are not immune to swordfish despite their tough skin – the bills can penetrate their bodies.
- Swordfish tend to go after smaller shark species like blue sharks but avoid larger sharks.
- Great white sharks in particular prey on swordfish as the apex ocean predators. Their size and strength gives them the advantage in most encounters.
So while sharks can be threatened by swordfish bills, such attacks are uncommon. Sharks are well-adapted as predators to handle strikes from other marine animals.
Swordfish Attacks on Sharks
|First scientifically documented case was in 1960, additional cases since then
|Most attacks involved blue sharks and mako sharks
|Some attacks may be defensive responses by juvenile swordfish
|Adult swordfish have attacked larger sharks like threshers
|Swordfish bills can inflict deadly injuries on sharks
|Attacks increasing in Mediterranean as populations decline
Swordfish and Shark Interactions
Though they may compete for prey, swordfish and sharks generally avoid encounters with each other:
- As large solitary predators, they inhabit overlapping niches but different zones of the oceans. Direct conflict is rare.
- Sharks do prey on swordfish, especially younger ones, but adult swordfish have few predators except orcas.
- Shortfin mako sharks are known to hunt swordfish, using speed and agility to overpower them.
- Tiger sharks, bull sharks, and great whites also consume swordfish when the opportunity arises.
- Swordfish use their speed and bills to defend themselves against most shark attacks.
- Declining prey like tuna may force sharks and swordfish to compete more fiercely in some regions.
So while swordfish can kill sharks in unusual cases, they coexist as apex predators in a balance maintained through fear, avoidance and mutual predation. Disruption of ocean ecosystems by overfishing is the main threat to both species.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a swordfish a mammal or fish?
Swordfish are fish, not mammals. They belong to the billfish family Xiphiidae and have gills, fins and other features of bony marine fish.
Do tiger sharks eat swordfish?
Yes, tiger sharks are opportunistic predators that will eat swordfish on occasion as part of their varied diet. But they do not specifically target adult swordfish.
Do great white sharks eat swordfish?
Yes, great whites do feed on swordfish when they share the same habitats. But swordfish are just one of many prey items great whites consume including seals, sea lions and other fish.
While swordfish and some sharks share large size and predatory habits, they belong to very different families of fish with distinct anatomies, behaviors and habitats. Though swordfish can injure sharks with their bills on rare occasions, the two species mostly avoid direct conflict as they hunt different prey. Maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems is key to the continued coexistence of these iconic marine giants.