October 9, 2014

All in a flap about flying fish

I  HAVE READ A BOOK written by an eminent ichthyologist that states categorically that flying fish do not flap their wings.  I have read the same thing in Wikipedia.  Both sources maintain that the flying fish use their special pectoral fins only to glide, not for propulsion.

Well, I have news for them. Flying fish DO flap their “wings.” I have seen (and heard) flying fish flapping their wings in the Atlantic tradewind zones. I was ideally positioned to observe this phenomenon — a few feet above water in the cockpit of a small yacht — on a day when white caps were flashing as far as the eye could see. In between them, the flying fishes flew, sometimes singly, sometimes in large shoals so that the whole surface of the sea seemed to be moving off.

The “experts” say these little guys wiggle their tail fins to get up speed and then simply glide with their wings outstretched. They do that, certainly, but they also flap their wings. They look and sound like giant insects when they’re airborne. They appear to be some kind of  locust or mantis, and their wings make that same kind of dry fluttering noise.

They soar for a hundred yards or more at a time, using their wings in bursts, then gliding. On occasion they use their tails and wings simultaneously to regain flying speed as they touch the breasts of swells, just like planes doing circuits and bumps.

They fly to escape from predators, of course, and when they fled from us they usually started off downwind, and took a slow semi-circle of a curve before landing face into the wind; but not always. Sometimes they flew upwind from the yacht; and at night we occasionally found them stranded on deck. We never ate them, but I’ve heard that they are delicious, fried for breakfast.

I must admit that it has occurred to me that the flying habits of fish might not be of great interest to you, but I hope that some of you, at least, will be in a position some time to see for yourselves that I speak the truth. I hope also that you will join me in thumbing my nose at the experts who say flying fish don’t flap their wings. They do.

Today’s Thought
The good ship darts through the water all day; all night, like a fish, quivering with speed, gliding through liquid leagues, sliding from horizon to horizon.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“How’s your new math tutor?”
“He’s great. Even his teeth have square roots.”
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