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Humpback Fins to Save the Planet & Solve our Energy Crisis

11 August 2019 | DWC Blog

Just when you thought that whales couldn’t get any more awesome, it now turns out that the humpback’s humongous pectoral fins could be an answer to our energy crisis.

The humpback whale has the largest appendage of any animal on earth. Their massive 5m long pectoral fins give these gigantic animals amazing levels of manoeuvrability for an animal of their size. This is an essential ability, as the schools of tiny prey that sustain them require complex tight turns to gather and munch them, a few tons at a time!

Black Betty 03 - Jervis Bay - Dolphin Watch Cruises
When scientists noticed the weird lumpy bumpy things on the leading edge of their pectoral fins, at first, they thought their positioning didn’t make any sense. But it turns out these lumpy bumps called ‘tubercles’ hold a secret that could revolutionise the design of many human inventions.
esearchers at Harvard University analysed the flow of water over the humpbacks tubercles. They found that these lovely lady lumps on the fins enabled the ‘wings’ to be positioned at much sharper angles before ‘stalling’, explaining the amazing manoeuvrability of these massive animals.

This research was then further developed by researchers at the US Naval Academy, who found that biomimetic fins modeled off the humpbacks reduced drag by a third and improved lift by 30%. They suggested that this could lead to “more-stable aeroplane designs, submarines with greater agility, and turbine blades that can capture more energy from wind or water.”

Humpback Pectoral Fin - Jervis Bay - Dolphin Watch Cruises
This research is now being applied in the real world by Toronto-based company Whale Power, who are taking inspiration from these remarkable tubercles to develop wind turbine blades that mimic the pectoral fins of the marine mammals.
WhalePower - Jervis Bay - Dolphin Watch Cruises
So when you’re out whale watching with us here in Jervis Bay from May to November, check out the lumpy bumps on the pectoral fins, and thank the humpbacks for helping us develop more efficient wind turbines, aeroplanes and maybe helping to care for the planet we share with these magnificent animals.