Flying Fish! 

While travelling on a boat through a tropical ocean, you may be surprised to see "flying fish" leaping from the water and "flying" through the air. But can fish really fly???

Flying fish can easily be identified by their huge "flying fins" and lopsided tails. Flying fish are capable of jumping out of the water and gliding through the air over considerable distances. Two-winged flying fish have exceptionally large pectoral fins that they spread out like wings during gliding flights. In addition to huge pectoral fins, four-winged flying fish also have enlarged pelvic fins used for gliding. Flying fish have deeply forked tails and the lower lobe of the tail is much longer and larger than the upper lobe. In preparation for flight, flying fish swim quickly towards the water's surface and leap out of the water. Once they are out of the water, the fish use their large wing-like fins and the large lower lobe of their tail to glide through the air. The enlarged lower lobe of the tail acts like an outboard motor, the speedy sideways motion of the tail allows the fish to gain height from the surface of the water, and extend the flight time. Fish can glide as far as 100 metres and as high as one metre above the surface of the water, but most flights are shorter.

There are over 50 species of flying fishes belonging to the Family Exocoetidae. They are mostly marine fishes of small to medium size. The largest flying fish can reach lengths of 45 cms, but most species measure less than 30 cms in length. Young fish look quite different from the adults; they have a variegated colour pattern and a large pair of flaplike whiskers. The whiskers extend downward from the end of the lower jaw, and may be longer than the fish itself. The whiskers disappear as the fish grow, and are not found on adult flying fish.

This photo of an adult flying fish



High-speed photographic studies have shown that flying fish hold their enlarged pectoral fins relatively steady, and glide through the air in a manner similar to other gliding animals like flying squirrels, lizards, and snakes. Flying fish do not fly in the same way as birds, because birds vibrate their wings during flight.

Flying fish use their unusual flying talent to escape predators such as swordfish, tunas, and other larger fishes. Flying fishes eat small crustaceans and other planktonic animals.



Herald, Earl. 1961. Living Fishes of the world. Doubleday & Company Inc., New York.
Joseph, Nelson. 1984. Fishes of the world, 2nd edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York.
Moyle, Peter and Cech, Joseph. 1982. Fishes An Introduction to Ichthyology. Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey.

National Geograpic's flying fish page

 to marine biodiversity index

OceanLink Home | OceanNews | Deep Sea Science | Biodiversity
Students in Action | Ocean Matters | Career Info | Links