Cyclic length changes in the internal red muscle of skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) were measured using sonomicrometry while the fish swam in a water tunnel at steady speeds of 1.1-2.3 L s(−)(1), where L is fork length. These data were coupled with simultaneous electromyographic (EMG) recordings. The onset of EMG activity occurred at virtually the same phase of the strain cycle for muscle at axial locations between approximately 0.4L and 0.74L, where the majority of the internal red muscle is located. Furthermore, EMG activity always began during muscle lengthening, 40–50 prior to peak length, suggesting that force enhancement by stretching and net positive work probably occur in red muscle all along the body. Our results support the idea that positive contractile power is derived from all the aerobic swimming muscle in tunas, while force transmission is provided primarily by connective tissue structures, such as skin and tendons, rather than by muscles performing negative work. We also compared measured muscle length changes with midline curvature (as a potential index of muscle strain) calculated from synchronised video image analysis. Unlike contraction of the superficial red muscle in other fish, the shortening of internal red muscle in skipjack tuna substantially lags behind changes in the local midline curvature. The temporal separation of red muscle shortening and local curvature is so pronounced that, in the mid-body region, muscle shortening at each location is synchronous with midline curvature at locations that are 7–8 cm (i.e. 8–10 vertebral segments) more posterior. These results suggest that contraction of the internal red muscle causes deformation of the body at more posterior locations, rather than locally. This situation represents a unique departure from the model of a homogeneous bending beam, which describes red muscle strain in other fish during steady swimming, but is consistent with the idea that tunas produce thrust by motion of the caudal fin rather than by undulation of segments along the body.
- © 1999 by Company of Biologists