Simulations of Unsteady Aquatic Locomotion: From Unsteadiness in Straight-Line Swimming to Fast-Starts

Integr Comp Biol. 2015 Oct;55(4):740-52. doi: 10.1093/icb/icv015. Epub 2015 Apr 17.


Unsteady aquatic locomotion is not an exception, but rather how animals often swim. It includes fast-starts (C-start or S-start), escape maneuvers, turns, acceleration/deceleration, and even during steady locomotion the swimming speed fluctuates, i.e., there is unsteadiness. Here, a review of the recent work on unsteady aquatic locomotion with emphasis on numerical simulations is presented. The review is started by an overview of different theoretical and numerical methods that have been used for unsteady swimming, and then the insights provided by these methods on (1) unsteadiness in straight-line swimming and (2) unsteady fast-starts and turns are discussed. The swimming speed's unsteady fluctuations during straight-line swimming are typically less than 3% of the average swimming speed, but recent simulations show that body shape affects fluctuations more than does body kinematics, i.e., changing the shape of the body generates larger fluctuations than does changing its kinematics. For fast-starts, recent simulations show that the best motion to maximize the distance traveled from rest are similar to the experimentally observed C-start maneuvers. Furthermore, another set of simulations, which are validated against measurements of flow in experiments with live fish, investigate the role of fins during the C-start. The simulations showed that most of the force is generated by the body of the fish (not by fins) during the first stage of the C-start when the fish bends itself into the C-shape. However, in the second stage, when it rapidly bends out of the C-shape, more than 70% of the instantaneous hydrodynamic force is produced by the tail. The effect of dorsal and anal fins was less than 5% of the instantaneous force in both stages, except for a short period of time (2 ms) just before the second stage. Therefore, the active control and the erection of the anal/dorsal fins might be related to retaining the stability of the sunfish against roll and pitch during the C-start. At the end, the needed future developments in the computational front and their possible applications on investigating stability during unsteady locomotion are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Swimming / physiology*