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Team Members

  • Marina Dimitrov


1-slide summary:

Research Questions







Extra Background for Reference


Tuna, one of the top predators in the ocean, swim with an incredible mix of power, speed, and efficiency. In this “thunniform” swimming, the front part of the body remains fairly straight. Bending the last part of the spine swings the stiff tail region right before the fin, called the peduncle, back and forth. The tail fin, in turn, bends relative to this peduncle, adding a characteristic flick to the tail strokes. Figure 1 shows this combined mode of oscillation.


Figure 1 – Tail motion of a swimming tuna (Dimitrov et al. in preparation). Note the two primary motions of interest: that of the peduncle at the end of the spine, and that of the tail fin relative to the peduncle.


This gives the tuna fine control over the interaction between vortices coming off the body and those generated by the tail, as modeled with computational fluid dynamics (CFD).1,2 Vortices are rotational patterns of fluid motion that a fish creates while swimming, generating force and leaving the equivalent of footprints in the water (Fig. 2).



Figure 2 – 3D fluid structure behind an oscillating tuna tail fin modeled using CFD (left), and a 2D slice of that (right), showing how the vortices form almost like “footprints”.2


During cruising, tuna swim by almost exclusively using a system of red muscle myomeres, ribs, and posterior oblique tendons (POTs), shown in Figure 3, which transmit muscle forces to the spine.3 The horizontal ribs coming out of each vertebra act as struts, allowing the muscle attached to each tendon to pull on a vertebra farther down the spine. Figure 4 shows how these muscles contract along the body throughout the swimming “stride.”


Figure 3 – A 2D engineering model (left) of the red muscle and posterior oblique tendon (POT) system in tuna (right), with the normally stacked muscles separated and folded out (Cromie et al. in preparation).



Figure 4 – Muscle activation patterns of a swimming yellowfin tuna. From the head towards the tail, the muscles on one side start contracting, until they are all contracted. This then repeats on the other side of the body.4


Posterior to this POT system, a bony keel jutting out horizontally from the vertebrae acts to increase the moment arm of the great lateral tendon (GLT), which attaches to the tail fin (Fig. 5). Passing over the keel rather than lying close to the backbone provides the GLT and associated muscle myomeres with greater mechanical advantage as they pull on the tail. The GLT also attaches to the skin at various points on the way back to the tail.



Figure 5 – The great lateral tendon (GLT, blue) and associated muscle myomeres (red) of a yellowfin tuna (Dimitrov et al. in preparation).




  1. Yang, L. & Su, Y. CFD simulation of flow features and vorticity structures in tuna-like swimming. China Ocean Eng. 25, 73–82 (2011).
  2. Zhou, K., Liu, J. & Chen, W. Numerical Study on Hydrodynamic Performance of Bionic Caudal Fin. Appl. Sci. 6, 15 (2016).
  3. Westneat, M. W., Hoese, W., Pell, C. A. & Wainwright, S. A. The horizontal septum: Mechanisms of force transfer in locomotion of scombrid fishes (Scombridae, Perciformes). J. Morphol. 217, 183–204 (1993).
  4. Altringham, J. D. & Shadwick, R. E. in Fish Physiology (ed. Stevens, B. B. and E.) 19, 313–344 (Academic Press, 2001).