FLYING FISH, a name given to all those fishes which have the pectoral fins so very large that by means of them they are sustained in short seeming flights in the air. These fishes belong to two very different families—scombere.socidce and sclerogenidce; but the name F. F. is sometimes limited to those of the former family, the genus exocatus; those of the latter being known as flying gurnards. The genus exoccetus has the pectoral fins nearly as long as the body, the dorsal fin placed over the anal, the tail forked, and its lower division considerably larger than the upper. It is subdivided by some naturalists into several genera, characterized by the presence or absence of barbels, etc. Two species have occasionally been seen near the British shores, one of which (E. volitans) is very abundant in the warmer parts of the Atlantic ocean, the other (E. exiliens) is common in the Mediterranean. In the former, the ventral fins are situated far forward, and are short; in the latter, they are situated far back, and are considerably elongated. More than SO species are known, all inhabiting the seas of the warmer parts of the world, and having their respective geographical limits pretty exactly defined.
They swim in shoals; and whole shoals—varying in num'ber from a dozen to 100 or more—often leave the water at once, darting in the same direction through the air, and after descending into the water at a distance of 200 yards, or even more, from the place where they arose, quickly renewing their flight. These flights of flying fishes form one of the most interesting and pleasing spectacles which relieve the monotony of a voyage in the tropical seas. Sometimes the coryphene (dolphin) may be seen in rapid pursuit, taking great leaps out of the water, and gaining upon his prey, which take shorter and shorter flights, vainly try to escape their persistent foe, until they sink at last exhausted: sometimes the larger sea-birds catch flying fishes. whilst they are in the air; but it does
not seem to be at all true that these fishes leave the water, as has been very generally imagined, merely to escape from danger, nor is there any good reason for that senti mental pity which has been often expressed with regard to them, as creatures harassed and persecuted more than others, and peculiarly exposed to dangers both in the sea and in the air. ' They seem rather to exercise their powers, like other creatures, very often merely from the delight which they take in the exercise of them, and from the exuber ance of their happiness.—The question, whether or not the flying fishes use their pectoral fins at all as wings, cannot yet perhaps be considered as completely decided; some observers, well entitled to respect, maintain that they do, although, of course, their power of flight is limited to the time that the fins remain quite moist; but a great pre ponderance of testimony is in favor of the opposite opinion, which regards the fins as acting merely after the manner of a parachute or of a kite. Flying fishes sometimes rise to a height of 20 ft. above the water, although they more frequently skim along nearer to its surface. They often fall on the decks of ships. They are good food, and the natives of the South sea islands take them by small nets attached to light poles, like those in which anglers catch minnows for bait. For this purpose, they go out at night in canoes, to the outer edge of the coral reefs, with a torch, which enables them to see the fishes, and perhaps both attracts and dazzles them.