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Dynamics of the Aerial Maneuvers of Spinner Dolphins
Journal of Experimental Biology (2006)
  • Frank E. Fish, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
  • A J Nicastro
  • D Weihs

The spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) performs spectacular leaps from the water while rotating around its longitudinal axis up to seven times. Although twisting of the body while airborne has been proposed as the mechanism to effect the spin, the morphology of the dolphin precludes this mechanism for the spinning maneuver. A mathematical model was developed that demonstrates that angular momentum to induce the spin was generated underwater, prior to the leap. Subsurface corkscrewing motion represents a balance between drive torques generated by the flukes and by hydrodynamic forces at the pectoral fins, and resistive torques, induced by the drag forces acting on the rotating control surfaces. As the dolphin leaps clear of the water, this balance is no longer maintained as the density of the air is essentially negligible, and a net drive torque remains, which permits the dolphin's rotation speed to increase by as much as a factor of three for a typical specimen. The model indicates that the high rotation rates and orientation of the dolphin's body during re-entry into the water could produce enough force to hydrodynamically dislodge unwanted remoras.

  • spinner dolphin; Stenella longirostris; spinning; swimming; maneuver; angular momentum
Publication Date
February, 2006
Publisher Statement
Publisher version available at
Citation Information
Frank E. Fish, A J Nicastro and D Weihs. "Dynamics of the Aerial Maneuvers of Spinner Dolphins" Journal of Experimental Biology Vol. 209 Iss. 4 (2006)
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