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Ever Wonder Why Fish Don’t Swim Upside-Down?

Source: Hakai Magazine/Harrison Tasoff - November 14, 2017 in Science/Tech

Ever Wonder Why Fish Don’t Swim Upside-Down?
Photo: Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There is no up or down in space, yet in shows like Star Trek, ships are always oriented the same way: right side up. It’s a scientifically unnecessary trope that has become a running joke among science fiction fans.

Yet here on Earth, fish find themselves in a strikingly similar situation. As a fish glides through its weightless, three-dimensional, watery world, it almost always stays right side up. The question—for both starships and fish—is why?

It’s an easier question to answer for fictional spaceships than real-life fish.

In movies or on television, directors show ships the way they do because it makes the scene more understandable to viewers, creatures accustomed to a gravity-bound world. “We have a fixed idea that everything should be right side up,” says Frank Fish, a functional morphologist at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. But what about fish? It’s a puzzle.

“I can’t get into the mind of a fish—despite my name—and determine why it would particularly do that,” says Fish.

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