Passive Bristling of Mako Shark Scales in Reversing Flows

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Isurus oxyrinchus, placoid scales, dermal denticles, turbulence, drag reduction, boundary layer

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Shark skin has been shown to reduce drag in turbulent boundary layer flows, but the flow control mechanisms by which it does so are not well understood. Drag reduction has generally been attributed to static effects of scale surface morphology, but possible drag reduction effects of passive or active scale actuation, or ‘bristling’, have been recognized more recently. Here, we provide the first direct documentation of passive scale bristling due to reversing, turbulent boundary layer flows. We recorded and analysed high-speed videos of flow over the skin of a shortfin mako shark, Isurus oxyrinchus. These videos revealed rapid scale bristling events with mean durations of approximately 2 ms. Passive bristling occurred under flow conditions representative of cruise swimming speeds and was associated with two flow features. The first was a downward backflow that pushed a scale-up from below. The second was a vortex just upstream of the scale that created a negative pressure region, which pulled up a scale without requiring backflow. Both flow conditions initiated bristling at lower velocities than those required for a straight backflow. These results provide further support for the role of shark scale bristling in drag reduction.

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Journal of the Royal Society Interface, v. 15, art. 20180473