From parachutes to whales

From parachutes to whales: Applying the unsteady aerodynamics of inflation to the study of lunge feeding by fin whales (balaenoptera physalus). Lunge feeding is one of several strategies employed by baleen whales to catch in only one "gulp" a large amount of krill and other small prey that typically swim in schools. In many ways, the water-filling process that expands the initially folded, highly-extensible and compliant buccal cavity skin shares a lot of commonalities with the unsteady fluid dynamics of parachute inflation. Dr. Potvin has recently joined forces with Dr. J. Goldbogen and Prof. R. Shadwick from the Zoology Department of the University of British Columbia to propose a new theory of the drag force that is generated during lunge feeding. The result is a new simulation program that computes the full trajectories of the whale and water that it is engulfing. This new tool should give biologists the means to compute the entire energy budget of this peculiar feeding strategy, a key element needed to understand why whales have evolved to be so large. (Graphics by Jeremy A. Goldbogen & Nicholas D. Pyenson)

sequence illustrates the six-second feeding lunge of a fin whale

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