Wake Induced by an Undulating Elephant Seal Whisker

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Journal of Visualization


Certain species of seals are able to faithfully detect minute disturbances in ambient water solely using their whiskers, which is attributed to the whiskers’ undulating three-dimensional (3D) morphology. While previous studies have examined effects of key morphology parameters on the wake using scaled-up whisker models, it is unclear how the wake behaves when induced by a real undulating seal whisker. Real seal whiskers usually have a diameter of about one millimeter and present variation in size and bending curvature along the length, which are not being considered in designing scaled-up whisker-like models. In addition, how the whisker orientation affects the induced wake and vortex shedding needs to be clarified. This work examines the wake flow characteristics generated by a real elephant seal whisker (of undulating morphology) and a California sea lion whisker (of smooth morphology) in laboratory water channels at Reynolds numbers of 110 and 390, using snapshot particle image velocimetry (PIV) and time-resolved PIV methods. Results indicate that the reversed flow region is remarkably reduced and turbulence intensities are greatly suppressed behind the undulating whisker compared to that of the smooth whisker, when the major axis of the whisker cross-section is parallel with the incoming flow (i.e., the angle of attack or AOA is 0∘" role="presentation">∘). While the vortex shedding frequency is reduced for both the undulating and smooth whiskers, the power spectral density is substantially increased at an AOA=90∘" role="presentation">AOA=90∘ in comparison to AOA=0∘" role="presentation">AOA=0∘. Regardless of the AOA, the power spectral density is approximately 40% lower in the wake of the undulating whisker than that of the smooth whisker, indicating the favorable hydrodynamic feature of the undulating whisker. The extraordinary hydrodynamic traits of undulating seal whiskers is promising for renovating aero-propulsion flow components and designing high-sensitivity underwater flow sensors.


This research is supported by the Faculty Startup Funds from the Office of Research at the Cleveland State University. The authors also thank the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute for U.S. Graduate Students Program (NSF EAPSI 1515471) for the great opportunity to conduct high-speed PIV experiments at the Biofluid and Biomimic Research Center (BBRC) of the Pohang University of Science and Technology, Republic of Korea.