The world under the waves is still a mystery, with 95 percent of oceans yet to be explored. Scientists are always uncovering many new and exciting aspects of this ecosystem; from the importance of fish poop, to new species of whale, and even how fish use sharks like a day spa!
Teams from the University of Florida and the University of Virginia recently dove into the powerful inner workings of fish schools. Scientists know so far that dozens to millions of fish assemble in these formations as predator deterrents. Schools also allow for speedy and streamlined movement. The research groups reproduced a group of trout-like swimmers, using a fluid dynamics computer program. Their aim was to further uncover why fish have evolved this interesting phenomenon.
The machine learning simulation found that when fish come together in a shoal, they act as one superorganism. Each individual plays their part, being perfectly optimized for their job to work as a group. Somehow every fish knows the exact moment to beat their tails, allowing for perfect speed and energy conservation for the overall collective. More research is needed to uncover how the fish know the right timing, but the scientists who worked on the project guessed it involves local water pressure depending on the individual’s position in the school.
Another benefit of fish moving as a school is that they can act as surveillance machines. The creation of low-amplitude sound waves allows for stimuli and threats, such as dolphins, to be monitored. “It’s important to understand how fish can transmit or reflect sound underwater, as this can lead to improvements in similar technologies such as radars,” said Yanni Giannareas, a student who helped with the project.
These findings were reported at the 74th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics in November 2021. The collective behavior discovery has the possibility to be applied to the group movement of underwater fish robots. The better we can simulate natural occurrences of these creatures, the more we can understand their environment and inner workings. Conservation efforts can be hugely helped by this information, therefore allowing the preservation of more beautiful marine life.