Research

Sharks Swimming Sideways

Like many sharks, the great hammerhead shark is negatively buoyant, meaning that, absent other forces, it would sink in water. To compensate, sharks generate lift with their pectoral (side) fins to offset their weight. Their dorsal (top) fin is used to generate the horizontal forces needed for control and turning. However, both captive and wild great hammerhead sharks tend to swim rolled partway onto their sides. The reason for this unusual behavior is hydrodynamic – it is more efficient for the shark. Unlike other species, the great hammerhead has a dorsal fin that is longer than its pectoral fins. By tipping sideways, the shark effectively creates a larger lifting span and is able to induce less drag than when it swims upright. Models show that swimming on their sides requires ~8% less energy than swimming upright! (Image credit: N. Payne et al., source)

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