Are Swordfish Carnivores? What do Swordfish Eat?

Yes, swordfish are carnivores. Their primary diet consists of small fish such as mackerel, herring, and squid. They are also known to eat crustaceans and other invertebrates. Besides, swordfish are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem. Therefore, swordfish are obligate carnivores since they consume only animal matter in their diet.

However, Many factors can influence the feeding habits of swordfish, including their size, location, and available prey.  Plus, they have a high metabolism and require substantial food to maintain their energy levels.

Experiencing swordfish’s eating habits in detail and discussing whether they are carnivores. Also, I’ll discuss swordfish’s ecological role and impact on the food chain.

Let’s delve into the mythical ocean world!

Is A Swordfish an Herbivore Or Carnivore?

Well, swordfish are strictly carnivorous and are known to prey on various marine organisms. During their diet, they are known for their sharp sword. These are used to capture and tear apart the prey they consume.


However, Swordfish is a popular seafood delicacy that’s enjoyed by many worldwide. It’s a healthy and delicious choice, but there’s still a lot of debate about its eating habits.

One of the most common questions is whether a swordfish is an herbivore or a carnivore. Generally, this is an important question to ask. Because understanding the diet of these fish can help us make informed decisions about their sustainability

Why Are Swordfish Carnivores?

Swordfish are carnivores due to their anatomical features and predatory behavior. They require a high protein and fat diet to sustain their large size and active lifestyle. As a result, they feed on pelagic and demersal fishes, including mackerel, herring, and lanternfish.

Usually, carnivores are animals that obtain their energy and nutrients by consuming other animals. Even, based on their evolutionary history and ecological niche, animals can be carnivores for different reasons.

Here, Swordfish are carnivores because they have their unique sword for preying.  Plus, they have a digestive system that breaks down and extracts nutrients from meat.

What Type of Fish Does Swordfish Eat?

Here are some of the main fish species swordfish feed on:

Mackerel: The swordfish feeds on Atlantic mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and Pacific mackerel. These fish are oily and rich in protein, making them a good energy source for swordfish.

Herring: Herring is another vital prey item for swordfish, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean. These small, silvery fish are abundant and accessible for swordfish to catch in large schools.

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Sardines: Sardines are small, oily fish found in large schools in coastal waters. Swordfish are known to feed on sardines when they are available, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea.

Lanternfish: Lanternfish are a type of small, deep-sea fish that are abundant in the mesopelagic zone of the ocean. They are an important food source for many predatory fish, including swordfish.

Squid: In deeper waters, swordfish are also known to feed on squid. Squid are protein-rich and easy for swordfish to catch with their sharp bills.

Tuna and billfish: Swordfish occasionally prey on other large, highly migratory fish such as tuna and billfish. However, this is relatively rare as swordfish tend to prefer smaller prey.

Crustaceans: Evidence shows that swordfish eat crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. However, crustaceans generally comprise a smaller portion of the swordfish’s diet than other prey.

Feeding Habits of Swordfish in The Western North Atlantic

sword fish

Several species of swordfish in the Western North Atlantic Ocean (WNA) are large, predatory fish. A marine biologist has extensively studied their feeding habits in the WNA. I will provide a detailed overview of their feeding behavior in this region.

Usually, swordfish’s diet in the WNA is mainly cephalopods (squids and octopuses), with some fish and crustaceans. A survey based on 168 stomach contents was found in the northwestern Atlantic. Squid accounted for 82% of their diet, while fish comprised 53%, including gadids, scombrids, butterfish, bluefish, and sand lances.

This indicates that swordfish are opportunistic feeders that will eat a variety of prey items depending on availability. However, a swordfish’s feeding habits adjust to prey availability throughout the year.

In general, swordfish use their bill, or “sword,” to slash, stun, or impale their prey, making it easier to capture and eat. As they can swallow small prey items whole, they can consume various prey items. They can also dive to depths of up to 1,800 feet (550 meters) to pursue prey.

However, swordfish feeding habits are influenced by various factors, such as -water temperature, depth, and prey availability. They are known to undertake long-distance migrations in search of food. Their feeding behavior can also be adjusted to accommodate changes in prey availability.

Besides, they prefer water temperatures between 18 and 22 °C (64 and 72 °F), although they have the widest tolerance among billfish. They can be found in water temperatures ranging from 5 to 27 °C (41 to 81 °F). In the summer, they usually move towards colder regions to feed, making them highly mobile and adaptable.

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Infact, During the summer months (June-August), squid are abundant in the WNA. Thus they will feed heavily on them. Squids are a high-energy and nutritious prey item for swordfish.

As fall approaches (September-November), the squid population declines. They will switch to fish and crustaceans like herring and shrimp in their diet.

What Plants Do Swordfish Eat?

Usually, swordfish do not eat plants. As I mentioned before, they are feeding primarily on other marine animals.

However, they may occasionally consume algae or other plants while consuming their prey. But plants are not a significant part of their diet. Plants do not provide nutrition to them.

Do The Fastest Fish Eat Swordfish?

Well, there is no clear consensus on whether the fastest fish in the ocean eats swordfish. At the same time, some studies have shown that particular species, such as marlin and sailfish, may feed on swordfish. But others have yet to find conclusive evidence to support this claim.

Although, sailfish are known for their incredible speed and predatory abilities, but swordfish is not their primary food source.

Moreover, speed can be a factor in hunting and predation. Other factors such as size, agility, and hunting tactics may also come into play. As a result, it is difficult to say whether the fastest fish eat swordfish without further research.

Do Swordfish Have Predators?


Yes, they have several predators. In fact, swordfish can be particularly vulnerable to predation during their early life stages when they are still relatively small and unable to defend themselves effectively.

During this time, they may be targeted by a range of predatory fish, including barracuda, mackerel, and other species. Let’s check out some predators of swordfish-

Killer whales (or orcas)


They are one of the main swordfish predators in the ocean. They are mainly apex predators known for their intelligence, hunting prowess, and ability to take down large prey. While they primarily feed on marine mammals such as seals and dolphins. They have also been observed preying on large fish, including swordfish.


Great White Shark

sharks are another potential swordfish predator. Species such as great white sharks, tiger sharks, and bull sharks are all known to inhabit the same areas as swordfish. They are capable of catching and eating swordfish.

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While swordfish have a long, sharp bill that they can use to defend themselves, but sharks are generally larger and more powerful and can easily overpower a swordfish if they catch it.

Other large predatory fish

They may also prey on swordfish. For example, a marlin is known to eat swordfish. Besides, some tuna species, such as bluefin tuna, may also target swordfish as prey.


Swordfish can also be preyed upon by humans, who have historically hunted them for their meat and fins. Today, swordfish are typically caught using sustainable fishing methods. But overfishing has led to declines in some populations.


Do swordfish eat sharks?

There is evidence that swordfish can attack sharks but can’t eat them.

According to researchers, blue sharks and makos are the most commonly stabbed by swordfish in the Mediterranean. Both shark species prey on young swordfish, prompting the swordfish to lash out.

Also, sharks have tougher skin than swordfish, making them less desirable prey.

Do swordfish eat whales?

No, swordfish do not eat whales. Despite their ability to attack and kill large marine animals, swordfish do not prey on whales because Whales are much larger and more powerful than swordfish. They are typically not part of their diet.

However, It has been recorded that billfish attack whales, including broadbill swordfish. Since 1832, whaling journals have documented such attacks.

Possibly, swordfish attack whales due to irascibility or ease of being provoked or enraged. This was noted by the renowned French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. He had written about swordfish attacking whales in his book “The Ocean World.” (source)

How often do swordfish eat?

Swordfish eat every day if food is available. The majority of the time, they eat at night. However, their feeding process depends on several factors, such as water temperature, prey availability, and individual size.

Despite their high metabolic rate, swordfish require a lot of food to stay healthy. Depending on their location and environmental conditions, swordfish feed at different frequencies.

Bottom line

To conclude, swordfish are carnivores, and their diet is mostly composed of other fish and squid. Despite their large size, they are fierce predators and use their sword-like bills to stun or kill their prey.

However, understanding swordfish diet and feeding habits is essential for their conservation and management.

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