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This species is one of the largest members of its genus. The largest scientifically measured sailfin tang was 40.0 cm (15.7 in). The body of the sailfin tang is disc-shaped with a much elevated dorsal fin and a big anal fin. It has an extended snout. Compared to the other members of the genus Zebrasoma, the sailfin tang has larger but fewer pharyngeal teeth. On each side of the caudal peduncle is a single sharp spine (the so-called scalpel) which is used for defence and to establish dominance. When the fish is not using its scalpel, it is folded down inside a groove. The sailfin tang is decorated with broad, pale yellow bands that alternate with darker bands over its body. The bending extends into both dorsal and anal fins. On the darker bands are yellow dots and stripes. The caudal fin is yellow. The head of the fish is white adorned with yellow dots. A dark band with yellow dots runs across the eye and another dark band with dots is located right behind the eye.
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