We measured the temperature sensitivity, adrenergic sensitivity, and dependence on sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca(2+) of ventricular muscle from pelagic fishes with different vertical mobility patterns: bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), and mahimahi (Coryphaena hippurus) and a single specimen from swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Ventricular muscle from the bigeye tuna and mahimahi exhibited a biphasic response to an acute decrease in temperature (from 26 degrees to 7 degrees C); twitch force and kinetic parameters initially increased and then declined. The magnitude of this response was larger in the bigeye tuna than in the mahimahi. Under steady state conditions at 26 degrees C, inhibition of SR Ca(2+) release and reuptake with ryanodine and thapsigargin decreased twitch force and kinetic parameters, respectively, in the bigeye tuna only. However, the initial inotropy associated with decreasing temperature was abolished by SR inhibition in both the bigeye tuna and the mahimahi. Application of adrenaline completely reversed the effects of ryanodine and thapsigargin, but this effect was diminished at cold temperatures. In the yellowfin tuna, temperature and SR inhibition had minor effects on twitch force and kinetics, while adrenaline significantly increased these parameters. Limited data suggest that swordfish ventricular muscle responds to acute temperature reduction, SR inhibition, and adrenergic stimulation in a manner similar to that of bigeye tuna ventricular muscle. In aggregate, our results show that the temperature sensitivity, SR dependence, and adrenergic sensitivity of pelagic fish hearts are species specific and that these differences reflect species-specific vertical mobility patterns.