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Marine Applications of the Biomimetic Humpback Whale Flipper

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The biomimetic approach seeks technological advancement through a transfer of technology from natural technologies to engineered systems. The morphology of the wing-like flipper of the humpback whale has potential for marine applications. As opposed to the straight leading edge of conventional hydrofoils, the humpback whale flipper has a number of sinusoid-like rounded bumps, called tubercles, which are arranged periodically along the leading edge. The presence of the tubercles modifies the water flow over the wing-like surface, creating regions of vortex generation between the tubercles. These vortices interact with the flow over the tubercle and accelerate that flow, helping to maintain a partially attached boundary layer. This hydrodynamic effect can delay stall to higher angles of attack, increases lift, and reduces drag compared to the post-stall condition of conventional wings. As the humpback whale functions in the marine environment in a Reynolds regime similar to some engineered marine systems, the use of tubercles has the potential to enhance the performance of wing-like structures. Specific applications of the tubercles for marine technology include sailboat masts, fans, propellers, turbines, and control surfaces, such as rudders, dive planes, stabilizers, spoilers, and keels.

Keywords: Megaptera novaeangliae; bio-inspired design; delayed stall; leading edge; tubercles

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-07-01

More about this publication?
  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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