SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • white shark;
  • dorsal fin;
  • dynamic stabilizer;
  • dermal collagen fibers;
  • tensile tests

Abstract

Transverse sections of the skin in the dorsal fin of the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, and spotted raggedtooth shark, Carcharias taurus, show large numbers of dermal fiber bundles, which extend from the body into the fin. The bundles are tightly grouped together in staggered formation (not arranged in a straight line or in rows). This arrangement of dermal fibers gives tensile strength without impeding fiber movement. Tangential sections indicate that the fibers in all three species are strained and lie at angles in excess of 60°. Of the three species investigated the dermal fibers in C. carcharias are the most densely concentrated and extend furthest distally along the dorsal fin. The overall results indicate that the dorsal fin of C. carcharias functions as a dynamic stabilizer and that the dermal fibers are crucial to this role. The fibers work like riggings that stabilize a ship's mast. During fast swimming, when the problems of yaw and roll are greatest, hydrostatic pressure within the shark increases and the fibers around the body, including in the dorsal fin, become taut, thereby stiffening the fin. During slow swimming and feeding the hydrostatic pressure is reduced, the fibers are slackened, and the muscles are able to exert greater bending forces on the fin via the radials and ceratotrichia. In C. carcharias there is a trade-off for greater stiffness of the dorsal fin against flexibility. J. Morphol. 263:1–11, 2005. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.