Press release from The National Marine Aquarium

4th July 2008

Endangered Swordfish found on South Wales Beach


A rare and endangered swordfish has been discovered dead on a South Wales beach.


On Thursday morning (3rd July 2008) the body of a large fish was found washed up on Barry Island beach, Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales.  It was a torpedo-shaped fish over six foot long with a long snout, a crescent tail and curved back fin.  It was obviously a “billfish” one of the group containing swordfish and marlins.  Colin Smith of the Vale of Glamorgan Council was soon on to it and contacted the Marine Conservation Society.  They in turn put him on to Doug Herdson at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, who manages the UK Marine Fish Recording Scheme.  The records show that while swordfish are rare, they do turn up from time to time in the waters around the British Isles; but there have only ever been three marlins found in the UK.


Photographs of the fish were sent to Plymouth and from these it was possible to identify it as a Swordfish Xiphias gladius (“Pysgodyn cleddyf” in Welsh) as expected.  The fish has since been taken to the National Museum Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru) where it will enter the national collection.  On arrival, it was carefully examined by Dr Peter Howlett, the Curator of Lower Vertebrates, who confirmed the identification and found it to be a young specimen 2.24 metres long and between 60 and 80 kg in weight.  It had been dead only a few days, but it had been scavenged by other creatures and it was not possible to determine the cause of death.


Swordfish can grow to 4.6 metres (16 ft) and weigh over 600 kg, so this one was a tiddler in global terms.  They are often called a Broad-billed Swordfish, but there is only one species in the world.  They are found throughout the tropical and temperate waters of the world but appear to prefer sea temperatures of 18°C to 22°C, migrating to cooler waters to feed in the summer.  These oceanic fish chase herring and mackerel and are among the fastest fish reaching 90 km.h-1 (56 m.p.h.).  This is in part due to their being warm-blooded, which allows not only their muscles but also their brain and eyes to work more efficiently.


By 1998 the swordfish population of the North Atlantic was thought to have declined, due to overfishing, to only 35% of its original size.  Once mature a female can produce 30 million eggs each year, giving the stock the capability of rapid recovery.  However the females do not mature until they reach 70 kg, and the average size now landed is a mere 40 kg.  When the population was first commercially targeted in the early nineteenth century the average fish landed weighed over 200 kg.  Such a decline is a classic feature of overfishing.  Drastic fisheries control measures are now in force for swordfish in the North West Atlantic, but is disputed as to how effective these have been and it is claimed that the stock is still at only half the level of a sustainable population.


Unfortunately, with stocks at these levels swordfish steak must now be on the ”fish to avoid” list.  It is to be hoped that effective fisheries management can be enforced in both the West and the East North Atlantic so that we can once again enjoy this delightful fish, both in the wild and on the plate.


In Europe the swordfish have probably decline even more, but they are still caught in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.  Vessels fishing for tuna in the Bay of Biscay and to the south and west of Ireland occasionally catch swordfish which are sometimes landed at Newlyn, in Cornwall. 


They do occur as far north as Sweden, and there are scattered records of swordfish around Britain since the first one at Margate in 1841.  There are few Scottish records with only four or five in the twentieth century.  They are probably commonest on the south and west coasts, but do turn up in the North Sea.  Records held by the National Marine Aquarium show that in 2006 one was photographed near Teignmouth, in Devon and another seen leaping off Dorset, while a small (26 kg) one was caught off the Northumberland; while in August 2007 an even smaller one was caught south of the Lizard.


The first swordfish in Wales was off Newport back in 1905; while in 2003 one was stranded at Rhossili on the Gower, despite efforts to rescue it , it died an hour later.  So the present fish is the third that Mr Herdson has details of in Wales, the National Marine Aquarium would welcome any other reports.


Douglas Herdson, Information Officer at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, said “We have phenomenal life thriving in the seas around the Britain, some of the richest areas being off the Welsh coast, west of Scotland and the South West.  It is great that fish like the swordfish and sunfish are being seen along with the turtles, dolphins and basking sharks.  We have wonderful marine biodiversity and must celebrate and protect it.”


The UK Marine Fish Recording Scheme welcomes reports of any unusual marine or estuarine fish seen around the British Isles; ‘phone 01752 275216 or email


Contact details:-

Douglas Herdson, Information Officer,

National Marine Aquarium,

Rope Walk, Coxside, Plymouth PL4 0LF, UK


Telephone: (+44)01752 275216/01752 600301
To inspire everyone to enjoy, learn and care about our Oceans through amazing, memorable experiences.


Or – Nadine Simpson, Marketing, 01752 275210

ze:11.0pt;line-height:150%;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial'>Nadine Simpson, Marketing, 01752 275210