Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dropping science

Literally. A couple years ago my friend Aaron gave me a few books, including one that I recently picked up again, Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina. It's a large book dedicated to... the bluefin tuna. Safina traveled the east and west coasts and the far Pacific to write a well-rounded account of the state of bluefin tuna populations today.

The chapter I just read was about swordfish, a predator of the tuna. With their sword, they charge a school of fish, then come back to eat the wounded. I learned this awesome tidbit:

"The eyes and brain of billfishes are warmed by a muscular furnace unlike anything else in the animal kingdom. Discovered in the 1980s, this unique system is most highly developed in the swordfish. Tunas and the warm sharks conserve heat incidentally generated by their muscles. But the billfishes, rather than merely conserving muscular heat, have gone an additional step, evolving an organ specialized to produce heat for their brain and eyes." (page 74)

Basically, tuna and other fish hide in the colder temperatures to avoid predators that need light to see or air to breathe. The swordfish's special "furnace" allows them to keep their eyes and brain warm in freezing temperatures, allowing for better hunting.

I got one word for this: AWESOME.

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