Episode 4: The Flying Fish

Educators from the Daulphin Island Sea Lab offsite link answer our questions about the Octonauts' adventure with a flying fish and teach us the fascinating ecology of these amazing gliders. 

Audio file

MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Octonauts, to your stations! Barnacles! Kwazii! Peso!

HOST: You’re listening to "NOAA & the Octonauts" — an episode-by-episode discussion of the children’s TV show The Octonauts, which features a crew of quirky and courageous undersea adventurers. Their mission: to explore the world’s ocean, rescue the creatures who live there, and protect their habitats. 

MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Explore! Rescue! Protect! Octonauts!

HOST: Our monthly podcast brings together experts from inside and outside of NOAA to help you — and the children you care about — learn more about the real-life versions of the Octonauts sea creatures and the ocean they call home. 

This podcast is hosted by NOAA’s Office of Education and the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center Network. Today, I’m your host, Gabrielle Corradino. Today, we’re talking about Episode 5 — The Flying Fish. When a school of flying fish accidentally make off with a rare book belonging to Professor Inkling, the Octonauts rig up the Gup-B to fly after them. Can they get it back in time before the school of flying fish fly away? Well, let’s find out. 

Now, Before we begin our chat, let’s set the stage for today’s deep dive. The fish in episode 5 that accidentally take the Professor's waterproof bag are a type of flying fish. Flying fish are known to swim near the surface water and are able to quickly jump out of the water. This jumping behavior is thought to help the fish avoid ocean predators like tuna or swordfish. Flying fish often travel throughout the warm waters in our ocean in groups called schools and their diet is mainly made of different types of plankton. 

Our guests today are here to answer all of our questions about flying fish! Here with us are Tina Miller-Way and Brian Jones from Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. The sea lab sits on an island and is surrounded by Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. While there are lots and lots of dolphins in the waters around the Sea Lab, the lab actually gets its name from the island that it sits on. The island was named for the french king who settled the area at the beginning of its European history. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab has over 80 types of fish at their education-based public aquarium. Tina is the Chair of the Discovery Hall Programs for Education and Outreach and Brian is the Aquarium Curator.

And they are both here to share with us to share a little bit about what they do! Thank you for being here Tina and Brian! Can you tell us more about your roles at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab?

TINA MILLER-WAY: Thank you for having us, we appreciate it. Yes, here at the lab I help people of all ages, but especially young people, learn about the ocean. Hopefully they will understand how important it is to all of us, not just the folk that live nearby and help to take care of it by studying it, helping to solve problems or just by sharing what they learn with others.

BRIAN JONES: Hi there, thanks for having us. I lead a fantastic team of animal care experts at our public aquarium. Not only do we take care of the fish, crabs, turtles, and frogs in our facility, but we also interact with the visitors who are eager to learn more about our local habitats and the great animals that live here. 

HOST: Well, we are really lucky to have both of you here with us today. I would love for both of you to explain which Octonauts’ job do you have? Are you a researcher like Shellington, an oceanographer like Inkling, a systems analyst like Dashi, a leader like Barnacles.

TINA MILLER-WAY: They are such fun characters, but I think I am like Shellington. I really enjoy learning new things about the ocean, I love to be at sea out on the ocean, especially at night and like Shellington I am easily distracted by learning new things.

BRIAN JONES: My job is most like Peso’s, I tend to look out for the health of the animals in our aquarium. 

HOST: Well let’s dive into the Octonauts team adventure with the school of flying fish and the professor’s book! Tina, does your job involve flying fish at all? 

TINA MILLER-WAY: Indirectly, I think. We share information here with our visitors, visitors that come to the island and also visitors that we connect with virtually and we share information about all kinds of fishes, that includes the flying fish.  I have seen flying fish in the Gulf of Mexico when I went to sea on long trips to do research, but I didn’t study them, I studied mud and worms.

HOST: Oh that sounds so interesting Tina! We are definitely going to have to make sure to have you back for a separate Podcast all about mud and worms and your sea adventures! What about you Brian, does your work involve flying fish at all?

BRIAN JONES: Like Tina, my job doesn’t directly involve flying fish. They are one of my favorite fish in the sea, though, so I love teaching people about them. I have been on similar long trips at sea, like Tina, and was able to study them briefly in small observation chambers before releasing them. With the flying fishes energetic lifestyle, they are not really that suited for aquarium life.  

HOST: It sounds like the both of you have seen flying fish quite a few times. Brian, after I watched the episode I was left wondering: Do flying fish actually fly?

BRIAN JONES: It looks like they are flying, but these amazing fish actually glide through the air after launching themselves from the water. 

HOST: So after they launch themselves out of the surface water, approximately how long can these fish stay out of the water for?

BRIAN JONES: In one burst, the flying fish can glide over 600 feet. If they are in the air and need to go farther, they don’t have to completely start over. As they get close to the surface of the ocean and coming back down, they can wiggle just their tail in the water to propel themselves even farther.  

HOST: So, where can I find flying fish jumping out of the water in the wild? Are flying fish common?

BRIAN JONES: They are quite common in the ocean, but they tend to live relatively far from shore, at least in our area. They are found in warm ocean waters all over the world and definitely prefer areas where food is concentrated, like the floating patches of sargassum seaweed. In our part of the Gulf of Mexico, flying fish tend to stay well offshore, away from the influence of coastal rivers and freshwater that enters. When we see them glide away from the bow of our research boat, we know we’ve arrived in beautiful, deep, blue water. 

HOST: Well, that just sounds like an incredible sight, Brian! Tina, I want to hear from you and can you tell us about the Dauphin Island Sea Lab research and what is currently being done with fish biology?

TINA MILLER-WAY: We have many fisheries scientists at the Sea Lab. Some of them are studying Gulf of Mexico fish that we like to eat, like red snapper and amber jack and trying to figure out how many of them there are so we know how many we can catch and eat of course and still have snapper or amber jack to catch next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Other scientists are studying the patches of Sargassum where flying fish lay their eggs and hang out while they are growing. We need to figure out how important those patches are and what happens when there is an oil spill. One of the things that happened after the oil spill was that the Sargassum patches got covered in oil. 

Some of the scientists here are studying invasive species, the kinds of fishes that do not normally occur in the Gulf of Mexico, like the lion fish, who had a big impact on some of our local fishes. Some scientists are studying what happens when we put in a manmade structure or what are called artificial reefs in the water.  Many fish like to hang around structures in the ocean, so if we add some, do we allow more fish to live there, or do we just make the fish easier to find and catch! And those are some of the things that the fisheries scientists here at the Sea Lab are studying.

HOST: That is some really important research that is being done, Tina. Thank you so much for share that about the Sea Lab. And thank you both, Brian and Tina, for being here with us today and answering all of our flying fish questions! We appreciate all of your time and help.


BRIAN JONES: Thank you for having us!

MUSIC: [Captain Barnacles’ theme] [Octo-Alert]

HOST: That’s the Octo-Alert. We want to hear your questions. What would you want to ask an expert about flying fish? We’ll make sure to pass these questions along to our NOAA scientists and aquarium educators. Just head to NOAA’s Office of Education Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to post your questions and we will post their answers!

Well, that’s it for today’s show! To learn more about fish of all kinds at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, check out their website at disl.edu. NOAA Fisheries has also has some fun flying fish pictures of all kinds in their photo library, which is linked in the transcript of the podcast.

MUSIC: [Bubbles]

HOST: I’m Gabrielle Corradino and this has been NOAA & The Octonauts. See you next month. 

MUSIC: [Creature Report] 
Kwazii, activate creature report!
Creature report, creature report, creature report!

Flying fish can soar and glide
They spread their fins and take a ride
They leap out of the water into air
Their tail fins push to get them there
Flying fish are quite a slight
Swimming up so fast and then they are taking flight

Dance break!

Go flying fish, go flying fish, go flying fish

We’re done with our mission. Octonauts, at ease, until the next adventure!