Abstract Bluegill sunfish pectoral fins represent a remarkable success in evolutionary terms as a means of propulsion in challenging environments. Attempts to mimic their design in the context of autonomous underwater vehicles have overwhelmingly relied on the analysis of
steady swimming. Experimental observations of maneuvers reveal that the kinematics of fin and wake dynamics exhibit characteristics that are distinctly different from steady swimming. We present a computational analysis that compares, qualitatively and quantitatively, the wake hydrodynamics
and performance of the bluegill sunfish pectoral fin for two modes of swimming: steady swimming and a yaw turn maneuver. It is in this context that we comment on the role that flexibility plays in the success of the pectoral fin as a versatile propulsor. Specifically, we assess the performance
of the fin by conducting a “virtual dissection” where only a portion of fin is retained. Approximately 90% of peak thrust for steady swimming is recovered using only the dorsal half. This figure drops to 70% for the yaw turn maneuver. Our findings suggest that designs based on
fin analysis that account for various locomotion modes can lead to more robust performance than those based solely on steady swimming.
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