Riding the waves: the role of the body wave in undulatory fish swimming

Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Nov;42(5):981-7. doi: 10.1093/icb/42.5.981.


A continuously swimming mullet modulates its thrust production by changing slip-the ratio between its swimming speed U and the speed V with which the body wave travels down its body. This variation in thrust is reflected in the wake of the fish. We obtained 2-dimensional impressions of the wake behind a mullet swimming at a slip of 0.7 equivalent to active swimming, at a slip of 0.9 close to free-wheeling, and at a slip of 1.1 when the fish is braking. Independent of the slip, vortices are shed at the tail when the tail tip reaches its maximum lateral excursion. The manner in which the wake changes as it decays depends on the degree of slip: At a slip well below unity, the wake decays without any qualitative changes in shape, the medio-frontal cross section of the mature wake consists of a double row of alternating vortices separated by an undulating jet, and the angle between the jet flow and the mean path of motion is close to 45°; at a slip above unity, the vortices stretch out laterally and the mature wake resembles a single row of oval vortices with two vortex cores, and the jet between the vortices is almost perpendicular to the mean path of motion; the wake at slip of 0.9 exhibits a pattern intermediate between the wakes at slips 0.7 and 0.9 with slightly elongate vortices and a jet angle of 61°.