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J Exp Biol. 1999 Sep;202 (Pt 17):2303-27.

Near-body flow dynamics in swimming fish

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Department of Ocean Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA and Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


We consider the motions and associated flow patterns of a swimming giant danio (Danio malabaricus). Experimental flow-visualization techniques have been employed to obtain the unsteady two-dimensional velocity fields around the straight-line swimming motions and a 60 degrees turn of the fish in the centerline plane of the fish depth. A three-dimensional numerical method is also employed to predict the total velocity field through simulation. Comparison of the experimental and numerical velocity and vorticity fields shows good agreement. The fish morphology, with its narrow peduncle region, allows for smooth flow into the articulated tail, which is able to sustain a large load for thrust generation. Streamlines of the flow detail complex processes that enhance the efficiency of flow actuation by the tail. The fish benefits from smooth near-body flow patterns and the generation of controlled body-bound vorticity, which is propagated towards the tail, shed prior to the peduncle region and then manipulated by the caudal fin to form large-scale vortical structures with minimum wasted energy. This manipulation of body-generated vorticity and its interaction with the vorticity generated by the oscillating caudal fin are fundamental to the propulsion and maneuvering capabilities of fish.

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