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J Exp Biol. 1988 Jul;137:157-73.

Kinematics and estimated thrust production of swimming harp and ringed seals.

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Department of Biology, West Chester University, PA 19383.


The propulsive motions of swimming harp seals (Phoca groenlandica Erxleben) and ringed seals (Phoca hispida Schreber) were studied by filming individuals in a flume. The seals swam at velocities ranging from 0.6 to 1.42 m s-1. Locomotion was accomplished with alternate lateral sweeps of the hind flippers generated by lateral flexions of the axial body in conjunction with flexion of the flippers. The frequency of the propulsive cycle increased linearly with the swimming velocity, and the maximum angle of attack of the flipper decreased, but the amplitude remained constant. The kinematics and morphology of this hind flipper motion indicated that phocid seals do not swim in the carangiform mode as categorized by Lighthill (1969), but in a distinct mode that mimics swimming by thunniform propulsors. The hind flippers acted as hydrofoils, and the efficiency, thrust power and coefficient of thrust were calculated from unsteady wing theory. The propulsive efficiency was high at approximately 0.85. The thrust power increased curvilinearly with velocity. The drag coefficient ranged from 0.012 to 0.028 and was found to be 2.8-7.0 times higher than the theoretical minimum. The drag coefficient was high compared with that of phocid seals examined during gliding or towing experiments, indicating an increased drag encumbered by actively swimming seals. It was determined that phocid seals are capable of generating sufficient power for swimming with turbulent boundary layer conditions.

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