We describe experiments on isolated, live muscle fibres which simulate their in vivo activity in a swimming saithe (Pollachius virens). Superficial fast muscle fibres isolated from points 0.35, 0.5 and 0.65 body lengths (BL) from the anterior tip had different contractile properties. Twitch contraction time increased from rostral to caudal myotomes and power output (measured by the work loop technique) decreased. Power versus cycle frequency curves of rostral fibres were shifted to higher frequencies relative to those of caudal fibres. In the fish, phase differences between caudally travelling waves of muscle activation and fish bending suggest a change in muscle function along the body. In vitro experiments indicate that in vivo superficial fast fibres of rostral myotomes are operating under conditions that yield maximum power output. Caudal myotomes are active as they are lengthened in vivo and initially operate under conditions which maximise their stiffness, before entering a positive power-generating phase. A description is presented for the generation of thrust at the tail blade by the superficial, fast, lateral muscle. Power generated rostrally is transmitted to the tail by stiffened muscle placed more caudally. A transition zone between power generation and stiffening travels caudally, and all but the most caudal myotomes generate power at some phase of the tailbeat. Rostral power output, caudal force, bending moment and force at the tail blade are all maximal at essentially the same moment in the tailbeat cycle, as the tail blade crosses the swimming track.

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