The club has taken on a new project for the 2015-2016 school year in conjunction with Dr. Doig of the Cal Poly SLO Aerospace Department. After his terrific guest speaker session in February of 2015, the club has been inspired to create the leopard seal flipper models that he will be using in his experiments.
Introduction to the problem: Today’s standard method for propelling an object through water is propellers. Boats, submarines, and other motorized vessels all rely on propellers to provide the thrust needed to travel through fluid. They’re rather inexpensive and easy to mass produce, well-understood in terms of their operation, and they get the job done. So, what’s the problem? The major downside to propellers is the endangerment of marine life. The most common example of physical trauma inflicted by rotating propellers are the Florida manatees, many of which bear deep scars from encounters with motorized boats.
In addition, propellers raise issues for those who wish to study marine wildlife because of how much noise they produce. The sound and vortices created by a large running propeller are often enough to frighten and disturb nearby marine animals, inhibiting surveillance vessels, such as submarines with cameras, from observing the natural behavior of their subjects. These issues, therefore, have created a need for non-propeller-based propulsion methods, and that’s where we come in!
Although there have been several studies on mimicking fish swimming patterns, there have been no attempts to replicate seal swimming patterns, especially those of the rare and understudied leopard seal. The Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is a skilled and respected predator native to Antarctica. Ranging in size from 8-11 ft long and weighing up to 1300 pounds, these massive animals can maneuver themselves through the ice-cold arctic water at speeds of up to 18 mph. These qualities make them excellent subjects to study for the purpose of propelling large objects.
The current goal for our club is to end up with both a contracted and expanded flipper model to test at the end of this school year. So far, we have begun with clay models to get a better idea of how to form the complex organic shapes.
In the future, we would like to work towards making a flexible flipper that can articulate the way a seal’s flippers do in real life.