Research

Mackerel vs. Eel: Who Swam It Better?

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Which matters more, form or function? This simulation sets out to answer that question by comparing the swimming motion of eels and mackerels. Eels have longer, more rounded body shapes and swim in an undulatory fashion with their whole body, whereas mackerels have shorter bodies with a more elliptical cross-section and primarily move their tails when swimming. The simulation separates body type from swimming motion by creating virtual races between fishes of the same body type using the two forms of swimming. Eels swim at moderate Reynolds numbers where viscous and inertial effects are reasonably balanced.  Under those conditions, eel-like swimming was faster, even with a mackerel’s body type.  At the higher Reynolds numbers where mackerels usually swim, inertial forces domination and the racing fish moved faster if they swam like a mackerel, even with the body of an eel. The results suggest that the swimming motion matters more in each Reynolds number range than the shape of the swimmer. This is a neat way that simulation can answer questions we cannot test with an experiment! (Video credit: I. Borazjani and F. Sotiropoulos)

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