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June 20, 2006

Fish story

Maybe it's because I'm Jewish, but I tend to eat a lot of herring. The herring I eat is prepared in many different ways, including, of course, pickled, which is probably the best. Herring in cream sauce, on the other hand, is an abomination unto the Lord. If God had intended us to eat herring in cream sauce, He would not have made the herring flatulent.

Now, you'll excuse me for using the FL-word, but I'm making this statement based on a quotation from an article at Discovery News, in which the authors of a study recently presented to an Acoustical Society of America meeting in Rhode Island say the following about herring -- and I quote -- "Farting may save their lives." Just to prove this to you, let me quote the first three paragraphs of the article:

Norwegian killer whales slap their tails underwater to disorient and kill herring, which sometimes defend themselves from the assault by disappearing under the cover of their own bubbly flatulence, according to a new study.

The study is one of two papers presented at the recent Acoustical Society of America Meeting in Rhode Island that addressed some of the clever techniques whales employ to catch their dinner.

While whales often are successful, some herring escape. The study's authors perhaps say it best: "Farting may save their lives."
How does it save their lives? I'm glad you asked.

"The (herring) bubbles are released through the anal duct when the air expands as the fish ascend," explained Malene Simon, who worked on the research. "We do not know if the fish release air when staying at one depth as a reaction when meeting a predator. However, it is very likely that the bubble will confuse or scare the predator in such a way that the herring will have a better chance of escaping."
This is really quite remarkable, because that's not usually the way flatulence works. Typically, the only flatulent animals, other than cows, are the males of a species. They are also the only ones who belch at the table or make funny armpit noises.

So this is more what I imagined when I heard that herring can be flatulent:

Harry Herring: Pfffffffft.

Henrietta Herring: That's disgusting!

Harry Herring: It was the dog.

I'm actually very encouraged to learn that herring can use flatulence to reduce the risk from predators, and I'm wondering whether males of the human species could do the same. Try it the next time you encounter a grizzly bear.

As amazing as this story about herring may be, we have to remember that no herring is an island; flatulence must be a communal activity for herring if it is to be successful.
Simon, a researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, added, "This effect would probably be much less significant for one lonely fish than when it is a large school of fish. The air bubbles reflect sound and make it difficult (for the whales) to locate the fish with echolocation."
In other words, to survive, herring must engage in what might be called "synchronized flatulence." (Which is probably a lot harder than it sounds, unless, of course, the herring have been eating Mexican food.)

Let me leave you with the following thought: Give it a dozen years or so, use some political persuasion and a few Powerpoint presentations, and synchronized flatulence may well become the next new Olympic sport.

(via Fark)