White Marlin Feeding Habits

by BFD Lures on March 15, 2022

This is a summary of research reports on actual stomach contents of White Marlin. The White Marlin is a very important sport specie in the Atlantic Ocean. In some ways, White Marlin habits are a bit different than other Marlins. Included are links to the reports and a pdf from the Brazil study if you care to dig deeper.

Common themes in these reports are:

  • The White Marlin is smaller than the other Marlins.
  • White Marlin spend most of their time in the top 33’ of the water column.
  • White Marlin dive deep more often than other Marlins but don’t stay down very long.
  • White Marlin prefer 75-84F degree water – and migrate to find it.
  • The mean length of prey found in a White Marlins stomach was 4”.
  • White Marlin like flying fish and squid and will “run down” their prey.


White marlin appear to be sight-oriented, daytime feeders. They often aggragate near fronts, the edges between water bodies of differing temperatures or salinities. These confluences produce nutrient-rich upwellings, drawing baitfish, and thus are successful feeding areas for the white marlin and other predatory fishes. There is some evidence that white marlin can stun or kill their prey by spearing or slashing it with their bill. Unlike swordfish, which use the same technique, the majority of prey items in the stomachs of white marlin appear without slashes. This indicates that white marlin more often overtake the prey by speed, rather than injuring it first. An important prey item for white marlin is squid. Bony fishes, especially dolphins, blue runner, mackerels, flying fish, and bonito are also commonly eaten. Round herring, which are abundant along the central Atlantic coast, are commonly consumed in that region. Much of the white marlin's distribution coincides with that of the yellowfin tuna and the blue marlin. As these fishes feed on many of the same prey items, there may be considerable competition for food resources.



North Carolina and Virginia

White marlin feed near the surface during daylight hours on a variety of fishes including mackerels, herrings, dolphin and flyingfish, as well as squids and crabs.


White marlin spend 85% of their time in water from 75 to 84 degrees. You should spend your time looking for them in waters within this temperature range. White marlin do not just swim around on the surface looking for bait. While they do spend about half of their time in the top 33 feet of the water column, looking for food may not be the primary reason they are there. This surface time may have much to do with increasing their core temperature and restoring cardiac function. Deep-water feeding behavior is substantiated by looking at stomach contents of captured white marlin. Cuttlefish, deep-water squid, a variety of deep-water fish, and even benthic sting rays are found in the stomachs of white marlin.

http://www.pswsfa.com/A%20Day%20White%20Marlin.htm  (This is a sort of synopsis of reams of data from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science)


The Institute for Biological Diversity

White marlin feed on small fish, such as herring and dolphinfish, and on invertebrates, such as squid, which are swallowed whole. The foraging and movement patterns of white marlin reflect the distribution and scarcity of their prey in the open seas. They must cover vast expanses of ocean in search of sufficient amounts of food. White marlin are solitary hunters, although these predators sometimes become concentrated in areas where prey is dense.




According to the IRI (Index of Relative Importance) ranking, a remarkable presence of epipelagic fishes and squids was observed. The flying gurnard, Dactylopterus volitans, was the most important prey item, with 27.9% of occurrence. Other pelagic fishes, like G. serpens(Snake Mackerel) C.hippurus (Dorado), Cubiceps sp (Blue Fathead) and K. pelamis (Skipjack) were also important. Cephalopods (Squid) were represented by muscular and vigorous swimmers was the second most important food item, with 21.2% of occurrence. The epipelagic octopus Ocythoe tuberculata was also frequent in the stomachs. Most preys ranged between 1.0 and 65.0 cm in body length, with a mean length around 10.1 cm. (that’s 4 inches) Most of them were represented by juvenile stages.


Click here for the entire White Marlin Brazil report … (warning, I translated a lot of the scientific names above).