In order to glide out of the water, a flying fish (Latin name “exocoetus”) swishes its tail to up to 50-70 times per second,which “vibrates” to produce enough speed to burst through the surface. It then spreads its pectorial fins and tilts them slightly upwards to lift itself to glide through the air. This permits it to sail above the ocean’s surface where it can at travel at 70km per mile. The fish is able to increase its time in the air by travelling against or at an angle to the direction of updrafts created by a combination of aircurrents in which the “wings” flutter due to the wind with a maximum glide time recorded to be 30 seconds. At the end of a glide, a flying fish folds up its pectoral fins which have been acting as “wings” to re-enter the sea or drops the lower end its tail into the water where it “vibrates” the lower part of its tail to allow its body to reaccelerate and change direction, providing the thrust to lift itself for another glide.
In 1900 to 1930s flying fish were studied as possible models used to develop airplanes. There are about 50 species grouped in seven to nine genera. Flying fish are found in all of the major oceans, particularly in the warm tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Historically the country of Barbados was nicknamed as “The land of the Flying fish”. Today it remains the official national fish for the country and it was in the Caribbean that I first saw them. I looked down from a deck above the bridge of a cruise ship and for a moment wondered why the captain was playing with paper airplanes! Then I realized who they were and spent a wonderful afternoon watching them ride and play enjoying the updrafts caused by the ship as we sailed passed Dominica!