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Efficient propulsion system: yellowfin tuna


Bluefin tuna / Matana and J.. / LicenseCC-by-nc-sa - Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike

Tails of yellowfin tuna conserve energy by using thunniform swimming.

Some ocean-dwelling fish, including tuna, mackerel, and sharks, have a form of swimming called thunniform. In thunniform swimming, most of the lateral movement occurs in the tail and adjacent area of the body with very little bending of the fish's body. The tail or caudal fin is usually large and crescent shaped to increase the power of each sweeping motion. This form of swimming is ideal for species that cover long distances and swim fast because it conserves energy.
"Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) swimming kinematics was studied in a large water tunnel at controlled swimming velocities (U). Quantified kinematic variables included the tail-beat frequency, stride length (l), caudal amplitude, yaw, the propulsive wavelength, the speed of the propulsive wave (C) and the sweepback angle of the pectoral fins. In general, all variables, except the propulsive wavelength and consequently C, are comparable to values determined for other teleosts. The propulsive wavelength for the tunas (1.23–1.29L, where L is fork length) is 30–60 % longer than in other cruise-adapted teleosts such as salmonids. The resulting thunniform swimming mode and the morphological and anatomical adaptations associated with the long propulsive wavelength (e.g. fusiform body shape, rigid vertebral column) act to minimize anterior resistance and maximize caudal thrust. The long propulsive wavelength also increases the maximum l which, in concert with the elevated muscle temperatures of tunas, increases their maximum swimming velocity." (Dewar and Graham 1994:45)
About the inspiring organism
Yellowfin tuna
Thunnus albacares (Bonnaterre, 1788)
Common names: Allison's tuna, Autumn albacore, 'Fin, Long fin tunny, Longfin, Pacific long-tailed tuna, Tuna, Yellow fin tuna, Yellowfin, Yellowfin tuna, Yellow-fin tuna, Yellow-fin tuna fish, Yellowfin tunny, Yellow-fin tunny, Yellowfinned albacore, Yellowfi

Habitat(s): Marine Neritic, Marine Oceanic
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: FishBase
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_NT IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Tidal and wave energy systems.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Transportation, energy.

Dewar H; Graham JB. 1994. Studies of tropical tuna swimming performance in a large water tunnel--III Kinematics. Journal of Experimental Biology. 192: 45-59.
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