How the body contributes to the wake in undulatory fish swimming: Flow fields of a swimming eel (Anguilla anguilla)

Ulrike K. Müller, Joris Smit, Eize J. Stamhuis, John J. Videler

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    Undulatory swimmers generate thrust by passing a transverse wave down their body. Thrust is generated not just at the tail, but also to a varying degree by the body, depending on the fish's morphology and swimming movements. To examine the mechanisms by which the body in particular contributes to thrust production, we chose eels, which have no pronounced tail fin and hence are thought to generate all their thrust with their body. We investigated the interaction between body movements and the flow around swimming eels using two-dimensional particle image velocimetry. Maximum flow velocities adjacent to the eel's body increase almost linearly from head to tail, suggesting that eels generate thrust continuously along their body. The wake behind eels swimming at 1.5 L s-1, where L is body length, consisted of a double row of double vortices with little backward momentum. The eel sheds two vortices per half tail-beat, which can be identified by their shedding dynamics as a start-stop vortex of the tail and a vortex shed when the body-generated flows reach the 'trailing edge' and cause separation. Two consecutively shed ipsilateral body and tail vortices combine to form a vortex pair that moves away from the mean path of motion. This wake shape resembles flow patterns described previously for a propulsive mode in which neither swimming efficiency nor thrust is maximised but sideways forces are high. This swimming mode is suited to high manoeuvrability. Earlier recordings show that eels also generate a wake reflective of maximum swimming efficiency. The combined findings suggest that eels can modify their body wave to generate wakes that reflect their propulsive mode.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2751-2762
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number16
    Publication statusPublished - 11-Jan-2001


    • Anguilla anguilla
    • Eel
    • Fish
    • Flow visualisation
    • Particle image velocimetry
    • Swimming
    • Undulatory swimming
    • animal
    • article
    • biomechanics
    • eel
    • histology
    • physiology
    • swimming
    • tail
    • SPEED

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