Research

Supercavitating Penguins

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Penguins, already fluid dynamicists by nature, have developed clever methods of increasing their speed to escape from the leopard seals that prey on them. In the clip above, notice from 1:55 onward as the penguins swim for the surface and leap onto the ice – they leave a trail of bubbles in their wake. The penguins are using supercavitation to decrease their drag. When the penguins first dive in to the water, they splay their feathers out in the air and then lock them closed in the water, trapping pockets of air beneath them. When the need for a burst of speed arises, the penguin shifts its feathers to release the air, coating most of its body in a layer of bubbles. Because the drag in air is much less than the drag in water, this enables the bird to achieve much higher speeds than they normally do when swimming.

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