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Tunas, mackerels, and billfishes (marlins, sailfishes, and swordfish) swim continuously. Feeding, courtship, reproduction, and even "rest" are carried out while in constant motion. As a result, practically every aspect of the body form and function of these swimming "machines" is adapted to enhance their ability to swim.
Many of the adaptations of these fishes serve to reduce water resistance (drag). Interestingly enough, several of these hydrodynamic adaptations resemble features designed to improve the aerodynamics of highspeed aircraft. Though human engineers are new to the game, tunas and their relatives evolved their "hightech" designs long ago.
Tunas, mackerels, and billfishes have made streamlining into an art form. Their bodies are sleek and compact. The body shapes of tunas, in fact, are nearly ideal from an engineering point of view. Most species lack scales over most of the body, making it smooth and slippery. The eyes lie flush with the body and do not protrude at all. They are also covered with a slick, transparent lid that reduces drag. The fins are stiff, smooth, and narrow, qualities that also help cut drag. When not in use, the fins are tucked into special grooves or depressions so that they lie flush with the body and do not break up its smooth contours. Airplanes retract their landing gear while in flight for the same reason.
Tunas, mackerels, and billfishes have even more sophisticated adaptations than these to improve their hydrodynamics. The long bill of marlins, sailfishes, and swordfish probably helps them slip through the water. Many supersonic aircraft have a similar needle at the nose. Most tunas and billfishes have a series of keels and finlets near the tail. Although most of their scales have been lost, tunas and mackerels retai...
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- Fall '13