It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a flying fish!
These captivating marine animals appear to be flying through the air, but they are actually gliding. Flying fish can reach up to 4ft in the air and can travel as far as 655 feet at a blistering speed of 37 mph!
But how do they “fly” exactly?
Biology of Flying Fish
Flying fish have large pectoral fins which expand while they’re in the air, giving the appearance of wings. While in the water, they ascend to the surface at an angle by rapidly beating their fork shaped tail. Once they reach the surface, they launch into the air and expand their fins, beginning to glide. Flying fish reenter the water once they begin to lose momentum.
The reason why flying fish have developed this ability is to evade predators. Several large fish like tuna and marlin are predators of flying fish, so they jump out of the water to avoid being eaten.
In Ecology, we split species into two categories based on their strategy for survival: r-species and K-species.
r species are those that are small in size, produce a high number of offspring and they have a short lifespan. While K species are large in size, produce a small number of offspring and have a long lifespan.
Based on this flying fish are an r species.
Flying fish begin growing to adult size in September. They spawn twice each year at the end of November and then between May/June. Flying fish live for 1-5 years, but they don’t usually survive after their first spawning event. Spawning activity results in a large number of adult flying fish in Barbadian waters.
Flying Fish and Barbados
If you’ve visited Barbados, then you’ve most definitely heard about flying fish, seen it or tasted it. This is because Barbados is known as “The Land of Flying Fish” thanks to the high numbers found in surrounding waters. Flying fish mainly feed on plankton which are found in Barbadian and the Eastern Caribbean waters in large quantities. As a result, these waters attract flying fish to them.
The abundance of flying fish in Barbadian waters have led to it having great cultural importance to the island, so much so that flying fish can be found on the dollar coin and Barbados tourism industry logo! And it is a part of the national dish; cou-cou and flying fish.
There are over 40 different species of flying fish around the world; and 12 of these are found in Eastern Caribbean waters. Only one of these species called Hirundicthys affinis is dominant in Barbadian waters. This species of flying fish is known as the four wing flying fish.
Sustainability of Flying Fish
Flying fish is a sustainable fish option for the people of Barbados; the reason being that it’s an r-selected fish. They reproduce quickly, and have a large number of offspring, creating a large population of flying fish available during flying fish season.
They also grow quickly so there isn’t a long time period to wait for them to become adults.
Flying Fish Fisheries in Barbados
In Barbados, the flying fish fishing season occurs from November to July of the following year. The largest catch occurs between December and May.
On average ⅔ of the tonnes of fish caught in Barbados are flying fish and in 2017, 2000 tonnes of fish were caught.
Unfortunately, the abundance of flying fish in Barbadian waters is decreasing. This is due to many factors, one including the emergence of sargassum seaweed around the island which has caused small flying fish to become trapped.
Additionally, an increase in fishing effort has led to overfishing of flying fish. As a result, flying fish are drifting deeper in the ocean as far as Trinidadian and Tobagonian waters to avoid being caught which makes the flying fish unavailable to Barbadian fishermen.
Article written by TerraMar’s Education Development Intern in Barbados – Micaela Small