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'Gray's Paradox' solved: Researchers discover secret of speedy dolphins
Date:11/24/2008

Troy, N.Y. There was something peculiar about dolphins that stumped prolific British zoologist Sir James Gray in 1936.

He had observed the sea mammals swimming at a swift rate of more than 20 miles per hour, but his studies had concluded that the muscles of dolphins simply weren't strong enough to support those kinds of speeds. The conundrum came to be known as "Gray's Paradox."

For decades the puzzle prompted much attention, speculation, and conjecture in the scientific community. But now, armed with cutting-edge flow measurement technology, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have tackled the problem and conclusively solved Gray's Paradox.

"Sir Gray was certainly on to something, and it took nearly 75 years for technology to bring us to the point where we could get at the heart of his paradox," said Timothy Wei, professor and acting dean of Rensselaer's School of Engineering, who led the project. "But now, for the first time, I think we can safely say the puzzle is solved. The short answer is that dolphins are simply much stronger than Gray or many other people ever imagined."

Wei is presenting his findings today at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics in San Antonio, Texas. Collaborators on the research include Frank Fish, a biologist at West Chester University in Pennsylvania; Terrie Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Rensselaer undergraduate student Yae Eun Moon; and Rensselaer graduate student Erica Sherman.

After studying dolphins, Gray said in 1936 that they are not capable of producing enough thrust, or power-induced acceleration, to overcome the drag created as the mammal sped forward through the water. This drag should prevent dolphins from attaining significant speed, but simple observation proved otherwise a paradox. In the absence of a sound explanation, Gray theorized that dolphin skin must
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Contact: Michael Mullaney
mullam@rpi.edu
518-276-6161
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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