Why do penguins swim so fast?

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Roger Hughes never met emperor penguins in nature. But when he saw in the BBC documentary how penguins cut through the water column leaving a trail of bubbles, he got an idea that later turned into an amazing discovery.

Hughes, a marine biologist from Bangor University in North Wales, had shortly before discussed with his wife the features of modern sports swimwear, allowing swimmers to develop fantastic speeds. And now I asked myself: maybe these bubbles help penguins swim faster?

It turns out that penguins are doing exactly what the engineers have long tried to apply to boats and torpedoes.

Over a beer in a pub, Hughes hypothesized to his friend John Davenport, a marine biologist at Irish National University in Cork. “Roger thought I would explain everything to him at once,” recalls Davenport, who studies the correlations between the forms of animal bodies and their movements.

But Davenport had no idea why penguins needed bubbles. It turned out that no one else in the world knows this. Hughes and Davenport, a break of the mountain of scientific literature, found out: this phenomenon has never been studied. And they decided to do it themselves.

With the help of Paul Larsen, a mechanical engineer from the Danish Technical University, friends analyzed many hours of underwater shooting and found that penguins do exactly what the engineers have been trying to apply to boats and torpedoes for a long time. Birds use air as a lubricant to reduce friction and increase speed.

When the emperor penguin swims, the friction between his body and water limits the maximum speed of the bird between 1.2 and 2.7 meters per second. But during short accelerations, the penguin can double or even triple the speed, releasing air from the feathers in the form of tiny bubbles. They reduce the density and viscosity of the water around, reducing friction and allowing you to develop greater speed, which, among other things, helps to escape from predators like sea leopards.

The secret lies in feathers. Like other birds, emperor penguins can fluff plumage, creating a layer of air on the surface of the body. However, if most birds have feathers growing on bare skin, emperor penguins have tiny hairs at the base of the feathers — only 20 microns in diameter (half as thin as a human hair). Lingering in this fluff, the air comes out in the form of micro bubbles – so small that they create a lubricating layer on the surface of the feathers.

Of course, the ships are unlikely to provide plumage – but in general the technology already uses the penguin’s secrets. In 2010, a Danish company began selling systems that lubricate container ships with air bubbles. Last year, Mitsubishi created an air lubrication system for supertankers. However, there is still no device capable of soaring up a sheer iceberg. This is still a secret technology.


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