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Exploring the mechanics of thunniform propulsion: a model study

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Thunniform propulsion is considered a case study in convergent evolution. Independently derived at least four times, it is characterized by uniquely high lift-based thrust and efficient performance. As such, it has been the focus of studies from biologists, engineers, and physicists. Unfortunately, direct physical measurements of this phenomenon are difficult to obtain. Therefore, the majority of research so far has consisted of theoretical modeling or experimental testing with models of low biofidelity. We created a test apparatus that would more accurately mimic thunniform propulsion as seen in the skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis (L., 1758)). Motion parameters and swimming speeds, as well as caudal fin size, shape, and material properties, were all taken into account and closely matched with in vivo measurements. Instantaneous lateral and in-flow forces were measured in tests over a range of motion regimes. Overall, general motion parameter requirements for thrust generation were determined and quantified. Thrust production, of up to 0.42 N (per whole caudal fin) with a coefficient of thrust of approximately 0.2, were in line with estimates of whole-body drag. Propulsive efficiency estimates were low (≤35%) compared with estimates in the literature of up to 90%. Quasi-static analysis was also conducted and shown to underpredict measured thrust values by up to 50%.

Keywords: aile portante immergée; hydrofoil; nage; poussée; swimming; thon; thrust; thunniform; tuna

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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