Sharkskin’s Secrets

Sharks are known as extremely fast and agile swimmers, due in part to the surface of their skin. Sharks are covered in very tiny tooth-shaped scales called denticles which are streamlined in the direction of flow over the shark. If you were to run a hand over a shark’s skin from head to tail, it would feel silky smooth, but rub against the grain and it’s like running your hand on sandpaper.  Water encounters a similar resistance, which, according to new research, provides the shark with a passive flow control mechanism, requiring no effort on the part of the shark. When water near the shark’s denticles tries to reverse direction, an early stage in flow separation, the denticles naturally bristle, slowing and trapping the reversed flow. This prevents local flow separation which would otherwise increase the shark’s drag and hinder its agility. (Photo credit: James R. D. Scott; Research by A. Lang et al.)

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