Smooth skin

Helps dolphins glide quickly

Published: Tuesday 15 June 2004

Dolphins could help design fas (Credit: Defense Link)physicists in Japan have discovered another factor that helps dolphins glide smoothly and quickly through water. It is well known that dolphins have streamlined bodies, which help them reduce the pressure of water against their skin as well as friction. But until now, no one knew whether the soft flaky skin of a dolphin, which they shed once every two hours, also plays a vital part in helping them travel faster.

To try and understand the role of the soft, flaky skin, researchers from the Kyoto Institute of Technology devised a computer simulation. It models the flow of water over a dolphin's skin, representing every individual flake and the way it peels off. The researchers found that the 'softness' or 'waviness' of the skin helps reduce friction. The shedding of the skin also reduces the friction by disturbing tiny whirlpools of water called vortices, which occur in the flow around a dolphin's body and impact their gliding.

The researchers hope their findings could help build better boats, ocean liners and submarines using technology based on these natural principles.

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