Penguins can launch themselves out of the icy sea in a hurry: no jet-pack required. Let Biomimicry 3.8's Gretchen explain how.
AskNature Nuggets | Episode 22
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Everybody knows, penguins can’t fly. Their flipper-like wings -- optimized for life at sea -- are better suited to underwater acrobatics than aerial maneuvers. But nonetheless, the penguin has an impressive strategy for getting “big air” when it needs to leap to shore to evade a hungry leopard seal.
The maximum swimming speed for a penguin is usually between four and nine feet per second. But in short bursts the penguin can double or even triple that speed in order to launch itself up onto the ice. Emperor penguins manipulate the air-trapping properties of their dense coat of feathers and selectively squeeze the air out as they swim. Tiny bubbles emerge and form a lubricating coating on the feathers’ surface. This cuts drag and enables the penguins to reach speeds that would otherwise be impossible.
This “air lubrication” effect is known to marine engineers and is being used to increase the speed and reduce the energy costs of large ships. What else do you think we can learn from the penguin’s strategy?