Hydrodynamic performance of the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) flipper

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2007

Journal of Experimental Biology

Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) are the smallest member of balaenopterid whales and little is known of their kinematics during feeding maneuvers. These whales have narrow and elongated flippers that are small relative to body size compared to related species such as right and gray whales. No experimental studies have addressed the hydrodynamic properties of minke whale flippers and their functional role during feeding maneuvers. This study integrated wind tunnel, locomotion and anatomical range of motion data to identify functional parameters of the cambered minke whale flipper. A full-sized cast of a minke whale flipper was used in wind tunnel testing of lift, drag and stall behavior at six speeds, corresponding to swimming speeds of 0.7–8.9 m s–1. Flow over the model surface stalled between 10° and 14° angle of attack (α) depending on testing speed. When the leading edge was rotated ventrally, loss in lift occurred around –18° α regardless of speed. Range of mobility in the fresh limb was approximately 40% greater than the range of positive lift-generating angles of attack predicted by wind tunnel data (+14°α ). Video footage, photographs and observations of swimming, engulfment feeding and gulping minke whales showed limb positions corresponding to low drag in wind tunnel tests, and were therefore hydrodynamically efficient. Flippers play an important role in orienting the body during feeding maneuvers as they maintain trim of the body, an action that counters drag-induced torque of the body during water and prey intake.

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