The flippers of the humpback whale channel flow and increase aerodynamic efficiency due to tubercles or bumps.
"The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is reported to use its elongate pectoral flippers during swimming maneuvers. The morphology of the flipper from a 9.02-m whale was evaluated with regard to this hydrodynamic function. The flipper had a wing-like, high aspect ratio plan- form. Rounded tubercles were regularly interspersed along the flipper's leading edge. The flipper was cut into 71 2.5-cm cross-sections and photographed. Except for sections near the distal tip, flipper sections were symmetrical with no camber. Flipper sections had a blunt, rounded leading edge and a highly tapered trailing edge. Placement of the maximum thickness placement for each cross-section varied from 49% of chord at the tip to 19% at mid-span. Section thickness ratio averaged 0.23 with a range of 0.20-0.28. The humpback whale flipper had a cross-sectional design typical of manufactured aerodynamic foils for lift generation. The morphology and placement of leading edge tubercles suggest that they function as enhanced lift devices to control flow over the flipper and maintain lift at high angles of attack. The morphology of the humpback whale flipper suggests that it is adapted for high maneuverability associated with the whale's unique feeding behavior." (Fish and Battle 1995:51)
"The humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae is exceptional among the baleen whales in its ability to undertake acrobatic underwater maneuvers to catch prey. In order to execute these banking and turning maneuvers, humpback whales utilize extremely mobile flippers. The humpback whale flipper is unique because of the presence of large protuberances or tubercles located on the leading edge which gives this surface a scalloped appearance. We show, through wind tunnel measurements, that the addition of leading-edge tubercles to a scale model of an idealized humpback whale flipper delays the stall angle by approximately 40%, while increasing lift and decreasing drag." (Miklosovic et al. 2004:L39)
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Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Fish, F. E.; Battle, J. M. 1995. Hydrodynamic design of the humpback whale flipper. J Morphol. 225(1): 51-60.
- Miklosovic, D. S.; Murray, M. M.; Howle, L. E.; Fish, F. E. 2004. Leading-edge tubercles delay stall on humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) flippers. PHYSICS OF FLUIDS. 16(5):
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