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Body flexibility enhances maneuverability in the world’s largest predator

how a flipper can adjust movement
Nov 20 2018

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P S Segre  D E Cade  J Calambokidis  F E Fish  A S Friedlaender  J Potvin J A Goldbogen
Integrative and Comparative Biology, icy121,
Published: 15 November 2018

Blue whales are often characterized as highly stable, open-ocean swimmers who sacrifice maneuverability for long-distance cruising performance. However, recent studies have revealed that blue whales actually exhibit surprisingly complex underwater behaviors, yet little is known about the performance and control of these maneuvers. Here, we use multi-sensor biologgers equipped with cameras to quantify the locomotor dynamics and the movement of the control surfaces used by foraging blue whales. Our results revealed that simple maneuvers (rolls, turns, and pitch changes) are performed using distinct combinations of control and power provided by the flippers, the flukes, and bending of the body, while complex trajectories are structured by combining sequences of simple maneuvers. Furthermore, blue whales improve their turning performance by using complex banked turns to take advantage of their substantial dorso-ventral flexibility. These results illustrate the important role body flexibility plays in enhancing control and performance of maneuvers, even in the largest of animals. The use of the body to supplement the performance of the hydrodynamically active surfaces may represent a new mechanism in the control of aquatic locomotion.