Morphology of the subdermal connective tissue sheath of dolphins: a new fibre-wound, thin-walled, pressurized cylinder model for swimming vertebrates



The subdermal connective tissue sheath (SDS) of dolphins is a fibre-reinforced membrane connected to other locomotor tissues, including blubber, axial muscles and tendons, and vertebral column. The complicated connections between the SDS and other locomotor tissues suggest that the SDS acts as a peripheral skeletal element for the axial locomotor muscles and as an anchor for a de novo dermal appendage, the dorsal fin. The morphology of the SDS suggests that the dolphin can be modelled as a fibre-wound, thin-walled, pressurized cylinder. Existing cylinder models predict that the SDS functions to resist torsional forces, prevent aneurysms, and limit wrinkling when the dolphin bends in locomotion. I present a new functional model that more accurately represents the morphology of the dolphin cylinder wrapped by the SDS. The new model predicts that the SDS: (1) acts as a retinaculum for the terminal tendons of the axial locomotor muscles; and (2) plays a role in maintaining the laterally flattened cross-sectional shape of the caudal peduncle. The model is based on external morphological features of dolphins shared by other steady swimming aquatic vertebrates, such as carangiform and thunniform fishes. These features, which include a streamlined body shape and narrow necking of the caudal peduncle have been identified as adaptions to reduce drag. The new model offers insight into some of the structural features of the body wall required to maintain the hydrodynamicallytuned, external morphology of steady-swimming vertebrates.