Clinging to the bodies of sharks and other larger marine life is a well-known specialty of Remora fish (Echeneidae) and their powerful suction cups on their heads. A new study has now fully documented the “sucking fish” while hitchhiking below the surface of the sea, uncovering a much more refined know-how the fish uses to navigate the intense hydrodynamics that come with trying to board a 100-foot -Drive river. Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus).
The study reveals the secrets behind the Remora fish’s success in hitchhiking aboard baleen whales, more than 30 times their size, to safely cross the ocean. They choose the best river regions on the whale’s body to hold on to, such as: B. behind the whale’s blowhole, where the fish’s resilience is reduced by up to 84%. The team’s results also show that remoras can move around freely to feed and socialize on their ride, even when their whale host reaches burst speeds of more than 5 meters per second by surfing and skimming previously unknown – Use behavior in special lanes with low air resistance exist directly in front of the surface of the whale’s body.
The researchers say the study represents the highest-resolution fluid dynamic full-body analysis of whales to date, the findings of which could potentially serve as a basis for a better understanding of the behavior, energy use, and overall ecological health of the species and animals to improve the tagging and tracking of whales and others Draft animals in future studies.
“Whales are like their own floating island, basically their own little ecosystems. … Gaining insight into the flow environment of blue whales with millimeter resolution through this study is extremely exciting, “said Brooke Flammang, Assistant Professor of Biology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the study’s co-author. “By fortunate coincidence, our recordings captured how Remoras interact in this environment and can use the different flow dynamics of these whales to their advantage. It’s incredible because we know next to nothing about how Remoras behave on their hosts in the wild for an extended period of time. ”
To date, scientists studying the symbiotic relationships between remoras and their hosts in their natural ocean habitats have relied largely on still images and anecdotal evidence, so much of their known subsurface adherence is a mystery.
In their most recent study, the researchers used multi-sensor biologging tags with two cameras that they attached to the whales via four 2-inch suction pads. The tags were able to calculate various measurements within the whale’s ecosystem, such as: B. the surface pressure and the complex fluid forces around the whales as well as the GPS location and the speed of travel due to daytime vibrations, while the Remoras were recorded by video at 24 frames per second and 720p resolution.
“Fortunately, drag on dimpled airplane cockpits has been measured many times and we were able to apply that knowledge to find out what drag these Remoras were experiencing,” said Erik Anderson, co-author, biofluid dynamics researcher at Grove City College and visiting researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “For our study, however, it was still necessary to calculate the flow over a blue whale for the first time using computational fluid dynamics. That required an international team of biologists, programmers, engineers and a supercomputer. ”
The team’s 211 minutes of video footage and whale tag data, processed by researchers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, captured a total of 27 remoras in 61 locations on the whales. It turned out that the Remoras are most frequently between three of the hydrodynamically most beneficial pods and moving places where the separation of current and wake is caused by the different topographical features of the whale: directly behind the blowhole, next to and behind the dorsal fin and the flank area above and behind the pectoral fin.
According to the team’s measurements, the shear force experienced by an average remora in the wake behind the blowhole of a whale swimming at a speed of 1.5 m / s can be only 0.02 Newtons, half the force of drag in the open Stream up. Anderson notes, however, that the Remora’s average suction force of 11-17 Newtons is more than just the whale’s most intense parking lot, its tail, where the Remora has a shear force of about 0.14 Newtons. And while the forces are greater, so are great Remora, who ride on whales that swim at much higher speeds.
“We learned that the Remora s suction pad is strong enough that it can stick anywhere, even at the stern where the air resistance has been measured the most, but they prefer the one-way trip,” said Erik Anderson. “This saves them energy and makes life less expensive when they hitchhike over the surface of a whale and glide over an asteroid or a mini-world like a NASA probe.”
Remoras Go Surf’s Up
The tags showed that the remoras use the whale’s physics to conserve energy while moving around their floating island by surfing in a thin layer of liquid that surrounds the whale’s body called the boundary layer. There the team found that the drag force is reduced by up to 72% compared to the much stronger free current directly above it. According to Flammang, the fish in this layer can lift within 1 cm of their host in order to feed or join their partners in other social places with little air resistance from the whale. Occasionally they change direction by flying over them or repeatedly attaching and loosening their suction pads to the whale’s body.
Flammang suspects that Remoras can move freely without being completely withdrawn from their fast hosts, which can move almost seven times faster than the Remora due to the so-called Venturi effect.
“The skimming and surfing behavior is amazing for many reasons, especially because we think they use the venturi effect and use suction to keep them close by keeping them about an inch away from the whale body,” explained Flammang. “In this narrow space between Remora and whale, liquid moves at a higher speed when directed into a narrow space, but has less pressure, so that it does not push the Remora away, but can actually suck it towards the host . She can swim up in the free flow to have a bite to eat and then return to the boundary layer, but it takes a lot more energy to swim in the free flow. ”
In addition to uncovering new details of the Remora’s hitchhiking capabilities, the team will continue to study the flow environments around whales and the mechanisms by which specifically adapted organisms such as Remoras successfully attach to hosts to improve animal tagging technologies and designs for extended periods of time Behavioral and ecological monitoring. The team is also using its new findings on the Remora’s preferred low drag mounting positions to better educate where they might mark whales in future studies.
“It is an extremely arduous process to study whales, which has to do with permissions, research regulations and the gamble of finding animals so that the tags usually fall off within 48 hours,” said Flammang. “If we can find a better way to collect longer-term data through better tag placement or better technology, it could really improve our learning of the species and many other animals that Remoras are attached to.”
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