Do Flying Fish Really Fly?

Let’s get real. We’ve all heard of flying fish before — and we’ve all at some point or another wondered, “Do flying fish really fly?” We have answers.

Short answer: kinda.

More technical answer: no.

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Flying fish don’t have the tools to stay airborne in the same way that birds do. But they can go for some sweet glides.

do flying fish really fly?

Gliding fish might be the more appropriate name, then.

do flying fish really fly?
But after seeing footage of the more than 60 different types of flying fish soar through the air, it’s easy to understand how they earned their moniker.

Some types of flying fish even appear to have wings, which makes them appear to fly even more.

What they’re doing isn’t quite flying, though. First, they use their tails to gather momentum and shoot themselves out of the water.

Then, they take those wing-like fins and spread them like a bird would. That helps pick up wind, which allows it to glide through the air. 

When it starts to slow down, its tail can help it pick up some speed and lift again.

do flying fish really fly?
The movements come in handy when they’re trying to escape from predators. Those predators are used to fish swimming away from them; they get pretty confused when all of a sudden their prey scoots right out of the water completely out of their reach.

Once they get going, they often go as far as 150 feet or so, although some have been measured going as far as 1,300 feet.

And they’re incredibly fast when they get going – some as much as 45 miles per hour.

do flying fish really fly?
Photo Credit: Flickr, Tom Benson

Flying fish can be found around the world, especially in warmer tropical waters. But they’re probably best known in Barbados, the country known as “The Land of the Flying Fish.”

It’s super common to see the animal flying through the sea in Barbados.

do flying fish really fly?

It’s also not uncommon to see it on your plate at a Barbados dinner.

do flying fish really fly?
Photo Credit: Flickr, Angie Torres

The country’s national dish is flying fish and cou cou, which is a corn meal and okra grain. The salty, oily fish and some seasoning makes it a tasty, hearty meal.

It’s delicious. But it’s also the one way that flying fish don’t fly.