Shark Skin & Why It's Awesome!
Shark skin has received notoriety for its ability to reduce drag and enhance the efficiency of locomotion. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). The scales, or dermal denticles, of shark skin are placoid in shape. The placoid shape of sharks’ scales allow for the scales to be flattened by the forward movement of water. This creates tiny vortices in the surrounding water and reduces the hydrodynamic drag upon the shark. Body suits have been manufactured with various ridges and dents to induce surface roughness that mimics what scientist believe contributes to the shark’s efficiency of movement. (Castro, 2011). Speedo’s FS II swimsuit, which has material modeled after shark skin, was found to reduce stiff-body drag by 7.7% (Benjanucatra et al., 2002) and 10-15% (Mollendorf et al., 2004) when compared to regular suits. Although many studies have been able to examine the difference in stiff-body drag between materials modeled after sharks and those that are not, it is important to consider the fact that sharks have an undulating movement while swimming, so their scales must account for shifts in position. It is difficult to decouple the effects of thrust and drag force when taking into consideration this fact. (Tytell et al., 2010). Flexible motor flaps with a “shark-like” covering were used in a study to account for swimming body movement. It found that dermal denticles improved swimming performance by an average of 12.3% compared to flaps without the “shark-like” properties. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). The study also determined that while in motion, shark scales not only reduce drag, they also increase thrust due to their effect on the location of vortices created by the ridges in the scales. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). There is so much we can learn from sharks. Support shark research and conservation so we can gain a better understanding of what makes sharks the jawsome creatures they are!
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