How Dolphins Swim at Top Speed

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Scientists have been trying to figure out how dolphins can swim so fast after Sir James Gray recorded a dolphin swimming over 22 miles per hour back in 1936. The size and shape of their body combined with the thrust force needed to move underwater at those speeds didn’t add up, creating what was known as Gray’s paradox.

Scientists have been trying to figure out how dolphins can swim so fast after Sir James Gray recorded a dolphin swimming over 22 miles per hour back in 1936.

The size and shape of their body combined with the thrust force needed to move underwater at those speeds didn’t add up, creating what was known as Gray’s paradox.

But now, a team of researchers including marine biologist Frank E. Fish, from West Chester University, working with captive dolphins at the University of California in Santa Cruz has finally discovered that the underwater mammals are able to swim through the water at such high speeds thanks to the thrust created by the movement of their tails, as known as flukes.

Fish is quoted as saying: “The flukes are essentially wings. They generate a lift force that is directed forward, on both the upstroke and down stroke.”

For the study, researchers put a soaker hose with many holes in it at the bottom of the dolphin tank, and pumped compressed air through the hose to create a curtain of tiny bubbles.

Illuminated by natural light, a video system recorded the movement of the bubbles around the dolphins’ bodies as they swam through the curtain, giving the researchers a way to calculate their speed and thrust.

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