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Ig Nobel Prize awarded for fish flatulence research
Published:  01 October, 2004

Flatulence may be a social faux pas for us, but for some fish it appears to be of great social value. Herring seem to fart to communicate with their neighbours at night – a discovery which scooped researchers Dr Bob Batty (Scottish Association for Marine Science), Dr Ben Wilson (University of British Columbia) and Professor Larry Dill (Simon Fraser University) an Ig Nobel award in Biology.

The prizes, which are an antidote to next week’s more serious Nobels, reward research that makes people laugh, then think ( They are announced this evening at Harvard University, Massachusetts in front of a 1200 strong audience. Bob Batty and Larry Dill are attending the ceremony to pick up their prize.

The British/Canadian team became interested in fish farts when they noticed captive herring releasing gas bubbles from their rears at night. Using infrared lighting with video cameras and underwater microphones, they monitored the herring behaviour round the clock. “We heard these rasping noises, which sound like high pitched raspberries, only ever at night, whenever we saw tiny gas bubbles coming from the herrings’ bottoms”, reminisces Bob Batty.

The fish, which gulp air from the surface and store it in their swim bladder, can release it through a duct to their anus. Although it was already known that herring could release large clouds of bubbles to confuse predators, releasing small bubbles intermittently when not under threat had not been seen or heard before.

“We also noticed that individual fish release more bubbles the more fish are in the tank with them. In other words it seems that herring like to fart in company” says lead author Ben Wilson.

The noises are only heard at night and may act as a source of communication within the shoal. Batty speculates that fish at the front of a shoal fart to direct other shoal members in a particular direction, keeping the school together at night. During the day these fish use visual information, such as the pattern of light reflected off specialised mirror-like scales, to communicate.

* is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish European Fish Trader, Fishing Monthly, Fish Farming Today, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation Diary, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.

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