Shark species that can hurtle through the ocean at high speed—up to 80 km per hour (50 mph)1 —have a number of special features that allow them to do that, e.g., the tiny scales on the surface of their skin.
Using models of bristled shark skin in a water tunnel experiment, researchers from the University of Alabama’s Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics Department and their colleagues observed that at high speed, tiny vortices or whirlpools formed within the cavities between the scales.3 (The scales were raised at an angle of 90º to the surface of the skin.) The effect of these vortices was to form a kind of ‘buffer layer’ between the fast moving fluid and the skin’s surface, thus preventing a turbulent wake from forming behind the shark. In other words, reducing drag….
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