Fluid Mechanics of Aquatic Locomotion at Large Reynolds Numbers

R N Govardhan, J H Arakeri


There exist a huge range of fish species besides other aquatic organisms like squids and salps that locomote in water at large Reynolds numbers, a regime of flow where inertial forces dominate viscous forces. In the present review, we discuss the fluid mechanics governing the locomotion of such organisms. Most fishes propel themselves by periodic undulatory motions of the body and tail, and the typical classification of their swimming modes is based on the fraction of their body that undergoes such undulatory motions. In the angulliform mode, or the eel type, the entire body undergoes undulatory motions in the form of a travelling wave that goes from head to tail, while in the other extreme case, the thunniform mode, only the rear tail (caudal fin) undergoes lateral oscillations. The thunniform mode of swimming is essentially based on the lift force generated by the airfoil like crosssection of the fish tail as it moves laterally through the water, while the anguilliform mode may be understood using the “reactive theory” of Lighthill. In pulsed jet propulsion, adopted by squids and salps, there are two components to the thrust; the first due to the familiar ejection of momentum and the other due to an over-pressure at the exit plane caused by the unsteadiness of the jet. The flow immediately downstream of the body in all three modes consists of vortex rings; the differentiating point being the vastly different orientations of the vortex rings. However, since all the bodies are self-propelling, the thrust force must be equal to the drag force (at steady speed), implying no net force on the body, and hence the wake or flow downstream must be momentumless. For such bodies, where there is no net force, it is difficult to directly define a propulsion efficiency, although it is possible to use some other very different measures like “cost of transportation” to broadly judge performance.

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