By Elisheva Maline
The Exocoetiade, popularly nicknamed "The Flying Fish," isn't like any exhibit at Manhattan's Ripley's believe it or not; it is far better. For those of us in the know, or at the very least anyone with an undergrad in ichthyology, there are angels swimming beneath the ocean waves. And I'm not talking about mermaids.
Not only did Hashem (G-d) create a varied number of creatures, He created combinations that only the modern surrealists could think up. Life under the sea is often a parallel to that which occurs on the surface. What makes it far more surreal is that it happens underwater. There are underground waterfalls, lakes. There are even mermaids, subhuman beings which some mythologies considered beautiful while others protested were the hideous versions of human fallacy.
Since they are parallel, the chance of these two eerily similar worlds colliding is slim to none. It is this fact, more than any other, which makes the existence of the flying fish that much more breathtaking. Why? The Flying fish has wings; long, gossamer thin petal-like wings which they use to break out of the ocean and glide through the air. When they leap free they can sometimes reach heights of over four feet. Okay, that doesn't sound like a lot... but can you leap one and a half meters?
With a sturdy vertebral column (body), researchers claim that the flying fish were created with flight in mind. How do they break out of the water with such force? They create speed while swimming underwater, up to 37 miles per hour. Angling upward, they beat their tails rapidly and race in the direction of the shivering surface waves. Then, once the Flying fish have taken to the air, they're cruising. Records show that some have managed to glide for distances that spanned over 1,312 feet. That's 400 meters. Is it any wonder that between the 1900's and 1930's these guys were used as possible models for airplanes?
What purpose is there in the flying fish's taking flight? According to National Geographic, the flying fish are commonly found in the epipelagic zone, a layer of ocean which rests closest to the surface. It is also known as the "light zone." Since it extends up to 200 meters from the surface down, the Flying fish are susceptible to predators both above and below. Larger fish, such as dolphins, porpoises, squids and tuna to name a few use the flying fish's choice of habitat as an opportunity to feast on the easy prey. This is where the taking flight as a means of self defense makes sense. They're not just looking to show off talent. They're trying to stay alive. Why are they such daredevils? They're not. They're just attracted to light. in many cases, this usually ends up meaning the light (pun intended).
Unfortunately, taking flight sometimes means jumping from the frying pan and into the fire. Fishermen take advantage of the flying fish by putting up a light at night to lure the flying fish into their canoes. First, the fishermen fill the bottoms of their boats with enough water to sustain them but not enough so the fish can propel themselves back out. Why should you chase your prey when you can just build a candy house and start waiting? Good thing they're not an endangered species. After all, G-d created over forty species. In case you're interested in observing the flying fish in action, book a ticket to the tropical island of Barbados, also known as The Land of Flying Fish.