Numerical investigation of the hydrodynamics of carangiform swimming in the transitional and inertial flow regimes

Iman Borazjani, Fotis Sotiropoulos

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355 Scopus citations


We employ numerical simulation to investigate the hydrodynamics of carangiform locomotion as the relative magnitude of viscous and inertial forces, i.e. the Reynolds number (Re), and the tail-beat frequency, i.e. the Strouhal number (St), are systematically varied. The model fish is a three-dimensional (3D) mackerel-like flexible body undulating with prescribed experimental kinematics of carangiform type. Simulations are carried out for three Re spanning the transitional and inertial flow regimes, Re=300 and 4000 (viscous flow), and ∞ (inviscid flow). For each Re there is a critical Strouhal number, St*, at which the net mean force becomes zero, making constant-speed self-propulsion possible. St* is a decreasing function of Re and approaches the range of St at which most carangiform swimmers swim in nature (Sf∼0.25) only as Re approaches infinity. The propulsive efficiency at St* is an increasing function of Re while the power required for swimming is decreasing with Re. For all Re, however, the swimming power is shown to be significantly greater than that required to tow the rigid body at the same speed. We also show that the variation of the total drag and its viscous and form components with St depend on the Re. For fle=300, body undulations increase the drag over the rigid body level, while significant drag reduction is observed for Re=4000. This difference is shown to be due to the fact that at sufficiently high Re the drag force variation with St is dominated by its form component variation, which is reduced by undulatory swimming for St>0.2. Finally, our simulations clarify the 3D structure of various wake patterns observed in experiments - single and double row vortices - and suggest that the wake structure depends primarily on the St. Our numerical findings help elucidate the results of previous experiments with live fish, underscore the importance of scale (Re) effects on the hydrodynamic performance of carangiform swimming, and help explain why in nature this mode of swimming is typically preferred by fast swimmers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1541-1558
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Carangiform
  • Energetics
  • Fish swimming
  • Mackerel
  • Numerical simulaton
  • Wake structure


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