The Effect of Humpback Whale-Like Protuberances on Hydrofoil Performance

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

John J. Blandino, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Charles W. Henoch, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

David J. Olinger, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Mark W. Richman, Committee Member


Hamid Johari




The humpback whale is very maneuverable despite its enormous size and rigid body. This agility has been attributed to the use of its pectoral flippers, along the leading edge of which protuberances are present. The leading edge protuberances are considered by some biologists to be a form of passive flow control and/or drag reduction. Force and moment measurements along with qualitative and quantitative flow visualizations were carried out in water tunnel experiments on full-span and finite-span hydrofoil models with several different planforms and protuberance geometries. A NACA 634-021 cross-sectional airfoil profile was used for the baseline foil in all tests. Four planform geometries chosen included: a full-span set of foils which spanned the breadth of the water tunnel, a finite-span rectangular planform, a finite-span swept hydrofoil, and a scale flipper model that resembled the morphology of the humpback whale flipper. A variety of sinusoidal protuberance geometries which included three amplitudes equal to 2.5%, 5%, and 12% and wavelengths of 25% and 50% of the local chord were examined in combination with the different planform geometries. Testing included force and moment measurements and Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) to examine the load characteristics and flow field surrounding the modified foils. Load measurements show that modified foils are capable of generating higher lift than the baseline at high angles of attack while at low angle of attack the baseline generally produces a lift coefficient equal to or greater than the modified cases. With the exception of the modified flipper model, the drag coefficients of the modified hydrofoils are either equal to or greater than their baseline counterparts. The increased drag reduces the lift-to-drag ratio. Flow visualizations show that vortical structures emanating from the shoulders of the protuberances are responsible for increased lift and drag at high angles. Cavitation tests show that modified foils cavitate in pockets behind the troughs of protuberances whereas the baseline foils produce cavitation along the entire foil span. Also, the cavitation numbers on modified hydrofoils were consistently higher than their baseline counterparts. This work shows the effect of leading edge protuberances on the aforementioned performance characteristics.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





humpback whale, hydrofoil performance, leading edge protuberances

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