Examination of the three-dimensional geometry of cetacean flukes using computed tomography scans: Hydrodynamic implications



The flukes of cetaceans function in the hydrodynamic generation of forces for thrust, stability, and maneuverability. The three-dimensional geometry of flukes is associated with production of lift and drag. Data on fluke geometry were collected from 19 cetacean specimens representing eight odontocete genera (Delphinus, Globicephala, Grampus, Kogia, Lagenorhynchus, Phocoena, Stenella, Tursiops). Flukes were imaged as 1 mm thickness cross-sections using X-ray computer-assisted tomography. Fluke shapes were characterized quantitatively by dimensions of the chord, maximum thickness, and position of maximum thickness from the leading edge. Sections were symmetrical about the chordline and had a rounded leading edge and highly tapered trailing edge. The thickness ratio (maximum thickness/chord) among species increased from insertion on the tailstock to a maximum at 20% of span and then decreasing steadily to the tip. Thickness ratio ranged from 0.139 to 0.232. These low values indicate reduced drag while moving at high speed. The position of maximum thickness from the leading edge remained constant over the fluke span at an average for all species of 0.285 chord. The displacement of the maximum thickness reduces the tendency of the flow to separate from the fluke surface, potentially affecting stall patterns. Similarly, the relatively large leading edge radius allows greater lift generation and delays stall. Computational analysis of fluke profiles at 50% of span showed that flukes were generally comparable or better for lift generation than engineered foils. Tursiops had the highest lift coefficients, which were superior to engineered foils by 12–19%. Variation in the structure of cetacean flukes reflects different hydrodynamic characteristics that could influence swimming performance. Anat Rec, 290:614–623, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.