Humpback whales are a gentle giant of the ocean. They are one of the most largest living animals and mammals on this earth. Surprisingly, they are also very agile, especially for an animal of their size. The reason for this is due to the bumps on their flippers called tubercles.
A tubercle is actually a large hair follicle containing a pocket of nerves linked to a hair. I was honestly surprised to learn that whales have hair! What these bumps are capable of doing is changing how pressure is distributed across the flipper, reducing the amount of drag and energy, as well as the amount of stall. Stall meaning when not enough water or air is flowing over the wing’s top surface, or flipper in this case. When this occurs there is a increase of drag, resulting in loss of altitude; losing lift.
You would think that a extremely smooth and straight flipper would be best for moving through water, or would require less energy. However, that is not actually the case, as having a smooth flipper would just create vortices behind it, increasing drag. This would not be efficient for the great beast of the ocean nor would they be stable while moving through the water, additionally losing their agility as well.
Now why would scientists bother to look into the bumps that whales have on their body? Well a Professor of Biology named Dr. Frank E. Fish thought that the bumps of a Humpback whale sculpture he saw, was not anatomically correct. Looking further into the matter to prove his argument, he not only discovered that he was wrong but, he also found a breakthrough in aerodynamics.
From the information he gathered from his studies and research, Fish found how tubercles on blades and wings are efficient and quieter, while also not needing much energy to run them. In fact, with this design more power can be produced at low speeds, hence less energy required. Wind powered turbines would run better, less drag, and unlike traditional turbines, even at low wind speeds power will be constantly generated.
Additionally, energy could also be generated by the tidal flow of the ocean, which is much more predictable compared to wind and solar power. Energy from the velocity of water flow can be convert into electricity. Without the tubercles this way of producing power would have been costly as well as there would be limited sites available, as these turbines would need high velocity of tidal flow to function.
Overall, we would have an easier time generating power at lower speeds of energy, with efficiency being up to 20 percent compared to traditional smooth blades. And air flow circulating would also be a lot better than before. Despite all this, it is amazing how humans can be inspired by animals and nature. Forming a different outlook into improving and creating new materials, such as fake shark skin; help reduce amount of barnacle colonies on the surfaces of ships and submarines while also increasing speed and stealth. Or even aeroplane wings and turbine blades designed similarly to that of a Humpback whales’ flipper.
Blain L 2008, Bumpy whale fins set to spark a revolution in aerodynamics, Gizmag, retrieved 05/05/16, http://www.gizmag.com/bumpy-whale-fins-set-to-spark-a-revolution-in-aerodynamics/9020/
Gregg J 2014, unsolved Mystery: What are those weird bumps on the heads of humpback whales?, EarthTouch News Network, retrieved 04/05/16, http://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/whales-and-dolphins/unsolved-mystery-what-are-those-weird-bumps-on-the-heads-of-humpback-whales
Hamilton T 2008, Whales-inspired Wind Turbines, Technology review, retrieved 04/05/16, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/409710/whale-inspired-wind-turbines/
Iron-man01 n.d., Whale Thanks Friends, Moving image of a whale breaching with the caption whale hello there, cheezburger, retrieved 06/05/06, http://cheezburger.com/7150825728
Kleinman Z 2015, Six ways nature has inspired tech innovations, BBC news, retrieved 04/05/16, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34676930
Orcutt M 2010, Bumpy humpback flippers inspire new tidal turbine design, a humpback whale flipper compared next to a turbine blade modelled off the whale flipper, Scientific America, retrieved 06/05/16, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/bumpy-humpback-flippers-inspire-new-tidal-turbine-design/
Quick D 2010, Whale-inspired bumps improve efficiency of ocean turbine blades, Gizmag, retrieved 04/05/16, http://www.gizmag.com/whale-inspired-bumps-improve-efficiency-of-ocean-turbine-blades/17094/
Simon M 2015, Sea Lion Flippers could inspire super stealthy submersibles, picture of a humpback whale’s flipper sticking out of the water, wired, retrieved 05/06/16, http://www.wired.com/2015/11/sea-lion-flippers-could-inspire-super-stealthy-vehicles/#slide-8