Functional morphology of the pectoral fins in bamboo sharks, Chiloscyllium plagiosum: benthic vs. pelagic station-holding

J Morphol. 2001 Sep;249(3):195-209. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1049.


Bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium plagiosum) are primarily benthic and use their relatively flexible pectoral and pelvic fins to rest on and move about the substrate. We examined the morphology of the pectoral fins and investigated their locomotory function to determine if pectoral fin function during both benthic station-holding and pelagic swimming differs from fin function described previously in leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata. We used three-dimensional kinematics and digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV) to quantify pectoral fin function in five white-spotted bamboo sharks, C. plagiosum, during four behaviors: holding station on the substrate, steady horizontal swimming, and rising and sinking during swimming. During benthic station-holding in current flow, bamboo sharks decrease body angle and adjust pectoral fin angle to shed a clockwise fluid vortex. This vortex generates negative lift more than eight times that produced during open water vertical maneuvering and also results in an upstream flow that pushes against the posterior surface of the pectoral fin to oppose drag. In contrast, there is no evidence of significant lift force in the wake of the pectoral fin during steady horizontal swimming. The pectoral fin is held concave downward and at a negative dihedral angle during steady horizontal swimming, promoting maneuverability rather than stability, although this negative dihedral angle is much less than that observed previously in sturgeon and leopard sharks. During sinking, the pectoral fins are held concave upward and shed a clockwise vortex with a negative lift force, while in rising the pectoral fin is held concave downward and sheds a counterclockwise vortex with a positive lift force. Bamboo sharks appear to sacrifice maneuverability for stability when locomoting in the water column and use their relatively flexible fins to generate strong negative lift forces when holding position on the substrate and to enhance stability when swimming in the water column.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Movement
  • Sharks / anatomy & histology*
  • Sharks / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Video Recording