Direct measurement of swimming and diving kinematics of giant Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

R Soc Open Sci. 2019 May 8;6(5):190203. doi: 10.1098/rsos.190203. eCollection 2019 May.


Tunas possess a range of physiological and mechanical adaptations geared towards high-performance swimming that are of considerable interest to physiologists, ecologists and engineers. Advances in biologging have provided significant improvements in understanding tuna migrations and vertical movement patterns, yet our understanding of the locomotion and swimming mechanics of these fish under natural conditions is limited. We equipped Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) with motion-sensitive tags and video cameras to quantify the gaits and kinematics used by wild fish. Our data reveal significant variety in the locomotory kinematics of Atlantic bluefin tuna, ranging from continuous locomotion to two types of intermittent locomotion. The tuna sustained swimming speeds in excess of 1.5 m s-1 (0.6 body lengths s-1), while beating their tail at a frequency of approximately 1 Hz. While diving, some descents were entirely composed of passive glides, with slower descent rates featuring more gliding, while ascents were primarily composed of active swimming. The observed swimming behaviour of Atlantic bluefin tuna is consistent with theoretical models predicting such intermittent locomotion to result in mechanical and physiological advantages. Our results confirm that Atlantic bluefin tuna possess behavioural specializations to increase their locomotory performance, which together with their unique physiology improve their capacity to use pelagic and mesopelagic habitats.

Keywords: biologging; buoyancy; diving; intermittent; locomotion.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4482188
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.7vp288f