Flying Fish: Wanted Dead or Alive

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Last week, researchers published an interesting little study on the remarkable flying fish. The fish can glide in the air, above the surface of the sea, for nearly a minute, covering some 400 meters before diving back below the surface. The new piece of research, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, analyzes the way air currents flow around the airborne fish. The results suggest that the fish are actually as aerodynamic–and as good at gliding through the air–as birds. (Wired has an excellent explanation of the science, if you’d like the details.)

But who cares about the findings when the study’s procedure is so wonderful? To wit: To conduct their ground-breaking research, the scientists hung dead fish aloft inside a wind tunnel. Hyungmin Park, one of the researchers, went fishing for his own experimental subjects, landing 40 flying fish, according to the Journal of Experimental Biology.

“Selecting five similarly sized fish, Park took them to the Korean Research Centre of Maritime Animals, where they were dried and stuffed, some with their fins extended (as in flight) and one with its fins held back against the body, ready to test their aerodynamics in the wind tunnel. Fitting 6-axis force sensors to the fish’s wings and tilting the fish’s body at angles ranging from –15 deg to 45 deg, Park and Choi measured the forces on the flying fish’s fins as they simulated flights.”

It all raises an interesting question: How do you play a prank on your labmates when your benches are already covered with dead fish?

While you ponder this question, check out this remarkable video of a flying fish in action, shot from a ferry in Japan.

Reference: Park, H. and Choi, H. (2010). Aerodynamic characteristics of flying fish in gliding flight. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 3269-3279. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.046052

Image: Journal of Experimental Biology

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