Whether depositing fat or losing weight, fish maintain a balance.

In fish, the relative amount of tissues of different densities changes significantly over short periods throughout the year, depending on the availability of food, nutrition and their developmental status, such as sexual maturation. If a land-living animal accumulates fat it influences not only its general state of health, but also markedly increases its energy expenditure for locomotion owing to the force of gravity.

On a body submerged in water, this force, which acts on the centre of gravity (COG), is counterbalanced by a lifting force that is negligible in air and which acts on the centre of buoyancy (COB). Any difference in the longitudinal positions of the two centres will therefore result in pitching moments that must be counteracted by body or fin movements. The displacement of the COG away from the COB is a result of tissues of different density (e.g. bones and fat) not being distributed homogeneously along the body axis. Moreover, the proportions of tissues of different densities change significantly with feeding status. It is still unknown whether these changes produce a displacement of the COG and thus affect the hydrostatic stability of fish. Analysis of computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging images of Atlantic herring, Atlantic salmon and Atlantic mackerel reveals that the COG is fairly constant in each species, although we recorded major interspecies differences in the relative amount of fat, muscle and bone. We conclude that the distribution of different tissues along the body axis is very closely adjusted to the swimming mode of the fish by keeping the COG constant, independent of the body fat status, and that fish can cope with large variations in energy intake without jeopardizing their COG and thus their swimming performance.

Doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1079 (2009).