Farting Herring and Other Fish that Break Wind

Boom-boom, duck call, honker and whopper are some of the many names it goes by. But in layman terms, we call it ‘farting’. Considered to be a mammalian feature, researchers have discovered that our sea-dwelling friends too exhibit the tendency to thunder from down under.

Marine researchers Bob Batty, Ben Wilson and Larry Dill made an outstanding and super-hilarious discovery in 2003 – fish fart. For their unique discovery, the trio was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize, given for highly improbable scientific discovers that initially make people laugh; and then make them think.

When studying Pacific and Atlantic herrings off the coast of Canada and Scotland, the researchers discovered the fish expelling gas from their bodies. When recorded on camera, the sounds (and the bubbles released) resembled human farts underwater. What caught the scientists’ attention was how the fish synchronized the expelling of gas, like that of an orchestra.

Fish

Upon further research, the trio realized that the farts produced by the fish weren’t fecal gas and didn’t serve a digestive purpose. The so-called ‘farts’ were in reality fresh oxygen that the fish inhaled through their mouths and exhaled through their anuses, in an attempt to communicate.

The trio of Batty, Wilson and Dill went as far as feeding the fish to check if the farts changed in any way (as they would if they served a digestive purpose). But, they discovered that the sounds and the bubbles remained the same.

Tooting their own horn

Herrings are one of the very few fish who have been recorded producing fart-like noises underwater. Scientists say these herring farts resemble the high-pitched sound a raspberry makes when squeezed.

Although not verified, researchers believe that these high-pitched noises are produced by herrings in an attempt to keep the shoal together after dark. Some scientists have taken a step further in this direction and have claimed that the ‘farts’ could be how individual herrings communicate with each other when part of a massive shoal. Given how the noises start only at night, scientists believe that the high-frequency vocalizations could also be a way to help lost or straggling herrings get back to the safety of the shoal.

Of course, these vocalizations are far from being a safety net. In fact, these farts act as double-edged swords, often attracting predators like whales, sharks and porpoises to the herrings.

An additional role of the farts could be that of a protective shield. The thousands of bubbles formed by the farts have been observed being used as a medium of protection at night. The air released post-explosion of the bubbles, creates a temporary layer of air around the herring, protecting them.

Not alone in the world of tubas and trumpets

If you think herring are the only musical creatures of the sea, think again. Here are 3 other animals that pass gas underwater:

  • Tiger sharks

Just like herrings, sand tiger sharks have been observed to ‘fart’. They gulp down air through their mouths and expel it forcefully out through their cloacas, which are penis-like organs that sharks use during mating. These farts aren’t a digestion-related gaseous expulsion but are a form of communication.

Shark

  • Cod

Male codfish have been observed producing loud grunts by forcefully expelling water out of their bodies. These ‘farts’ are in fact a form of communication during mating. The lower the frequency and longer the grunt, the more earnest is the wooing.

  • Pollack

Similar to their cod brethren, Pollack fish too emit grunts and buzzes during mating. Although resembling human farts, these vocalizations serve only a reproductive purpose. Apart from mating, most fish vigorously inhale and exhale air underwater, in an attempt to maintain buoyancy.

A talent of the mammals?

So far, only mammals have been observed producing farts and expelling fecal gas. Even dolphins, whales and other cetaceans like porpoises and dorudons have been observed to fart; and these farts are related to digestion. It seems, for now, the talent of breaking wind remains with the mammalians.

P.S: You may come across this video online entitled ‘shark fart’. Please note that this is a shark ‘pooping’. Apart from sand tiger sharks, no other shark species have been found to expel gas.

-NISHA PRAKASH

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