Flying fish can be found in all oceans but particularly tropical and subtropical waters. The term “flying fish” refers to at least 40 different species of ray-finned fish with rigid skeletons and large fins. These features allow the flying fish to glide over the water for long distances and maintain their aerodynamic shape. Some flying fish have two sets of fins to maximize their gliding time, which others have only one set of fins and are more streamlined.
Sometimes gliding for a distance of up to 700 feet, flying fish can travel great distances over the top of the ocean, not only staying close to the surface but leaping several feet into the air, as well. They are able to use their tail like a rudder to change direction with in mid-“flight” or when they come to the end of their glide. Their tail fins are not symmetrical; the top is much longer and may improve the stability of the glide and assist in steering. Most glides last less than a minute, though. The recorded longest glide is 45 seconds. It is unknown though unlikely if this is the fish’s physical limit, as they cannot breathe out of water. The gliding abilities of flying fish inspired early airplane designs.
The diet of flying fish is comprised of plankton. They are near the bottom of the food chain and have many predators. Escaping from underwater predators is thought to be the leading reason why flying fish “fly”. They face predation from dolphins, porpoises, marlin, mackerel, swordfish, squid, and others. However, birds also prey on them above the water. Frigate birds, for example, often catch flying fish.
The flying fish family is name Exocoetidae, coming from the Greek words “sleeping outside”. This refers to the misconception that flying fish came onto land to sleep. This could also refer to the common occurrence of flying fish landing in boats. They are attracted to light and if there is no moonlight and the boat is well-lit, the fish will probably come aboard. This makes them easy to hunt and fishers take advantage of this behavior.
Populations of flying fish seem to be stable and large. They have been driven away from areas they previously swam in by boat activity and pollution, although their overall numbers don’t seem to be suffering.
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