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article imageJapanese flying squids — Scientists confirm flight capabilities

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 10, 2013 in Science
Marine biologists at the Hokkaido University have conducted a study that sheds light on reports of sightings of a type of Japanese squid flying above the ocean's surface.
The Japanese researchers say their study is the first scientific confirmation of claims of flight capabilities of the squids Todarodes pacificus, based previously on anecdotal accounts. They also say their study provides the first detailed description of the flight mechanisms of the Neon Flying Squids.
Previous anecdotal accounts of flying squids claim that they emerge from water and streak through air over several meters for a few seconds. Now, the team of Japanese marine biologists have photographed them doing just that in groups.
Jun Yamamoto of Hokkaido University and his colleagues provide answers to the questions about how the Japanese flying squid achieves it remarkable flying capabilities.
The squid normally swims backwards in water with it fins. It has a nozzle near its head from which it can eject water for propulsion, for instance, in emergency when it needs to escape from a predator.
The study reveals that during flight, the squid releases high-pressured water jet. It then spreads out its fins like wings and glides over the surface of the water.
The study showed that the flying squid can fly at up to 11.2 meters per second, as AFP notes, faster than Usain Bolt who, at the 2012 Olympics, averaged only 10.3 meters per second.
The estimates of the speed of the flying squids were made from photographs taken in flight over the waters of the Pacific Ocean. reports that the Hokkaido University study is the first scientific study that confirms anecdotal accounts of flight capabilities of the squids. Yamamoto reports that a 2004 study had only collected "substantial anecdotal evidence" of flying squid.
Flying squid  Todarodes pacificus
Flying squid, Todarodes pacificus
AFP reports that biologist Jun Yamamoto of Hokkaido University, said: "There were always witnesses and rumors that said squid were seen flying, but no one had clarified how they actually do it. We have proved that it really is true."
According to AFP, the scientists carried out field observations of the squids in July 2011.
Yamamoto and his team tracked a shoal of around 100 squids that belong to the Japanese Flying Squid family in the northwest Pacific, 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of Tokyo. They saw the squids swimming just below the surface of the ocean, but as their boat approached the shoal of about 100 20-centimeter long squids, about 20 individuals launched into the air shooting powerful jets of water for propulsion.
The study authors said: "Once they finish shooting out the water, they glide by spreading out their fins and arms. The fins and the web between the arms create aerodynamic lift and keep the squid stable on its flight arc. As they land back in the water, the fins are all folded back into place to minimize the impact."
A photo (see below) shows several of the squids in flight above water. Their propulsion jet water is visible in the photo. The study authors said: "We have discovered that squid do not just jump out of water but have a highly developed flying posture."
Squids flying in the air in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
Squids flying in the air in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
Kouta Muramatsu, Hokkaido University (Handout)
The squids fly through the air for only about three seconds and may travel up to 30 meters, Yamamoto said. The researchers concluded that the squids fly to escape predators. But they noted that escape through flight from marine predators exposes them to predators in the air. The study authors observed: "This finding means that we should no longer consider squid as things that live only in the water. It is highly possible that they are also a source of food for sea birds."
The study was published by German science magazine Marine Biology.
The study comes shortly after a group of Japanese scientists unveiled last month, the first images of the giant squid in its natural habitat, deep in the Pacific Ocean. Digital Journal reports the mission was organized by the Japan National Science Museum in collaboration with the Japanese broadcaster NHK and the US Discovery Channel. The giant squid, Architeuthis, is known as one of the "last mysteries of the ocean."
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