Primitive and modern swimmers achieve high maneuverability through similar turning mechanisms

22 November 2019

John Costello
Department of Biology
Providence College


The study of aquatic locomotion has primarily focused on the dynamics of linear, unidirectional swimming. However, animal swimming in nature rarely appears to be linear, but instead, from microscopic plankton to humpback whales, typically involves frequent changes in direction that are mediated by turning maneuvers. However, turning by animal swimmers presents a fundamental dilemma based in rotational dynamics: the torque powering a turn is favored by an expanded body configuration, yet minimizing the resistance to a turn (the moment of inertia) is favored by a contracted body configuration. How do animals balance these opposing demands to achieve high maneuverability? I will describe how swimmers as diverse as jellyfish and fish use similar patterns to solve this challenge of everyday motion.

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