Flying fish (Description – fights – feeding – reproduction – flying- utilization)

The photo of this model was taken in Sea World, San Diego, USA

Review: Abdel Rahman El Gamal (Founder of the website)

Introduction: Flying fish is the common term for about 50 species within the family Exocoetidae. Flying fish has captured the imagination of people throughout the world for centuries because of its ability to glide in the air before returning into the water. It may be of interest to know that the Greek word “Exococetidae” means to ‘lie down outside’. Also, the Latin word “Exocoetus” means “sleeping outside”, so named as flying fish were believed to leave the water to sleep on the shore. The average lifespan of flying fish is around 5 years.

Habitats: Flying fish live in all of the oceans, particularly in tropical and warm subtropical waters of Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.  They are abundant in the Caribbean Sea as well.

Description: For most of flying fish species, their size ranges from 7 to 12 inches with some individuals which can reach up to 45 cm. Flying fish are ray-finned fish. Their ability to leap out of the water and fly is supported by their streamlined torpedo shape and their pectoral fins which are unusually large. Pectoral fins of flying fish can be spread out like a bird’s wing. Flying fish has deeply forked tail with its lower end longer than the upper end.

Flights: Flying fish are distinguished by their ability to glide upward out of water in a natural defense mechanism when threatened by predators. They launch themselves into the air by beating their tail very fast (about 50-70 times/second) and with the help of their streamlined torpedo shape they accelerates toward the surface of the water with the speed of about 60 kilometers per hour enabling them to break the water surface spreading their large, wing-like pectoral fins for gliding through the air above water’s surface for considerable distances.

According to studies and observations, flying fish can spend up to 45 seconds in flight, in which they glide a distance of about 100-200 meters and at a height of about 1-1.2 m above water surface. The gliding speed is estimated to be about 60-70 km/h.

Feeding habits: Flying fish usually feeds during night whereas their diet is mainly composed of plankton, bacteria and other tiny marine creatures.

Reproduction and life cycle: The mating of flying fish takes place in the open ocean when the ocean currents are the weakest. Flying fish spawn in large group of a number that can reach or exceed one million individuals. A Female flying fish deposits large number of eggs near the surface of the water, usually attached to floating debris by sticky filaments. Newly hatched flying fish have long whiskers around the mouth making the hatchling look like the flower produced by plants and this ensures their survival their early life stage during which the newly hatched fry are most vulnerable to predators.

Predation: It is thought that flying fish evolved a flying mechanism to escape their predators such as tuna, mackerel, swordfish, and marlin. Once in the air, flying fish sometimes are exposed to fish-eating birds.

Flying fish fishery: Flying fish are easily attracted to the light and so fishermen operate well-lit boats using luring light during night to guide flying fish toward their ships with good results. Hence, fishing of flying fish is done mainly during nights and only when no moonlight is available.

The tendency of flying fish to swim in large schools makes them an easy target to fishermen who could catch number of fish as they come across a large school.

Flying fish are commercially fished in some places using variety of fishing gears.  For example, gillnetting is used in Japan, Vietnam, and China while dip netting is used in Indonesia and India. 

Flying fish are also fished by small-scale fisheries with dip nets, seines, gillnets, and hook-and-line, sometimes at night with the aid of lights.

In the Solomon Islands, the flying fish are caught during their flying, using nets held from outrigger canoes.

Consumption of flying fish: The flying fish is consumed in some societies, but it is considered a delicacy whether the whole fish or its roe.  The species is widely consumed in Taiwan and is an important part of main national dish of Barbados. The common preservation method of flying fish is drying.

Flying fish and Barbados: The flying fish is the national fish of Barbados that was once known as “the land of the flying fish”. The flying fish appears on coins, and there are several sculptures of the flying fish in Barbados. Flying fish appear also in artwork, and as part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority. The disputes between Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago over the flying fish stocks which reached the council of United Nations Convention indicates the importance of flying fish to Barbados culture.

References: Sea World Display, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Wikipedia, National Wildlife Federation, BBC Nature Wild Life, National Geographic

Flying fish

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