, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 641-653

Fish locomotion: kinematics and hydrodynamics of flexible foil-like fins

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The fins of fishes are remarkable propulsive devices that appear at the origin of fishes about 500 million years ago and have been a key feature of fish evolutionary diversification. Most fish species possess both median (midline) dorsal, anal, and caudal fins as well as paired pectoral and pelvic fins. Fish fins are supported by jointed skeletal elements, fin rays, that in turn support a thin collagenous membrane. Muscles at the base of the fin attach to and actuate each fin ray, and fish fins thus generate their own hydrodynamic wake during locomotion, in addition to fluid motion induced by undulation of the body. In bony fishes, the jointed fin rays can be actively deformed and the fin surface can thus actively resist hydrodynamic loading. Fish fins are highly flexible, exhibit considerable deformation during locomotion, and can interact hydrodynamically during both propulsion and maneuvering. For example, the dorsal and anal fins shed a vortex wake that greatly modifies the flow environment experienced by the tail fin. New experimental kinematic and hydrodynamic data are presented for pectoral fin function in bluegill sunfish. The highly flexible sunfish pectoral fin moves in a complex manner with two leading edges, a spanwise wave of bending, and substantial changes in area through the fin beat cycle. Data from scanning particle image velocimetry (PIV) and time-resolved stereo PIV show that the pectoral fin generates thrust throughout the fin beat cycle, and that there is no time of net drag. Continuous thrust production is due to fin flexibility which enables some part of the fin to generate thrust at all times and to smooth out oscillations that might arise at the transition from outstroke to instroke during the movement cycle. Computational fluid dynamic analyses of sunfish pectoral fin function corroborate this conclusion. Future research on fish fin function will benefit considerably from close integration with studies of robotic model fins.