Humpback Whales’ Fins Designed for Energy-saving


Humpback whales are characterized by their long pectoral fins, which can grow to be one third of their body length. A closer look at the leading edge of the fin reveals that it is bumpy and covered with a series of knobs. This is unexpected, because a smoother leading edge is more suitable for traveling at high speeds, since it reduces water and air resistance. However, the Humpback whale’s fins are perfectly designed for swimming at slower speeds. Water flowing around the fin generates vortices behind the troughs along the fin’s leading edge. This generates a smooth water flow to the end of the fin, creating lift (a force that lifts the fin), while reducing water resistance. As such, the whales can avoid losing speed or sinking, even when they swim slowly, which also helps them save energy when changing direction. In this way, Humpback whales’ pectoral fins are very energy-efficient, with their mechanism for generating vortices and creating lift, which is very similar to the mechanisms of dragonflies’ wings (“Dragonflies’ Wings Have Novel Shape.”)

Functional Classification

Efficiency(Energy Saving, Resource Saving, Light):
Air or water resistance evasion

Environmental Solution Classification

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Technical Application

Products and Services

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Proposals of Applied Technology

The design of whales’ bumpy fins could be used to develop new wind power technology that can generate electricity even with slowly rotating vanes for areas with low wind speed. The slower rotation would create less noise, eliminating the problem of noise pollution for nearby residents or natural habitats. The mechanism that allows whales’ fins to create lift even at slow speeds can be used to develop new rotary wings for the engines of helicopters and jets, new helms for boats and submarines and new fans for air conditioners.

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