back to article Boffins crack secret of dolphins' aquatic prowess

American boffins believe they have cracked the scientific riddle known as "Gray's Paradox" - the mystery of how dolphins can manage their amazing physical feats. Famed zoologist Sir James Gray clocked the speedy cetaceans doing better than 20mph in 1936, leading him to theorise that they must have super-slippery hides or some …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So, Gray estimated that a dolphin produces 20 pounds force, yet an Olympic swimmer produces 3 times that (60-70 apparently).

    Obviously dolphins are stronger than Olympic swimmers, one look at the things would tell you that.

    His estimate was crap wasn't it?

  2. Gav

    Words, meaningless words.

    "This handily trumps human Olympic swimmers"

    Exactly how does the dolphins' swimming ability come in "handy"? Are dolphins ever pitted against human swimmers? From the dolphins' point of view it can only be handy when compared to the abilities of fish, and what's "handy" about it from the humans' point of view eludes me.

    The comparison is certainly certainly interesting and informative, but I can't see how it could be described 'handy'. Perhaps the word means nothing?

  3. Rupert

    Now they can go

    So long and thanks for all the fish ....

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I suppose I'll have to stop killing dolphins just so I can rub their fat over my body to make me swim faster.

    Oh well, there goes the tuna industry.....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    "200 pounds of force"? What does that mean? When I was at school (twenty years ago), we used Newtons. Pounds are a deprecated unit of mass aren't they?

  6. Anonymous Coward


    ... is there anything they can't do?

  7. Torben Mogensen

    Ten times as much?

    I find it hard to believe that the mentioned 200 pounds of force, or even the peak 300-400 pounds is ten times as much as expected, when olympic swimmers generate 60-70 pounds of force. Who would seriously believe that an olympic swimmer can generate twice the force when swimming than a dolphin can?

  8. Tony


    What a truly amazing use of (no doubt) all the research money they were given.

    Dolphins are stonger than we previously thought. Wow.

    I can think of so many ways this research will benefit mankind. I am so glad that whoever funded this didn't decide to give their money to reseach a cure for cancer or to develop safe renewable energy technology.

    Can I suggest a topic for their next project?

    How about : 'Bear defecation and it's relationship to arboreal density.'

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Paradox? What paradox?

    If Gray thought they had super slippery skin, why didn't he just kill one and see what the tension was in the rope as he dragged it behind a boat at 20mph?

    With his following dissection he could try things like putting the skin on waterskis to see it it helped or stimulating the muscles with an electric current and measuring the strength.

    Hell, he could have put something in the blow-hole to figure out how much CO2 they were creating, and therefore how much energy they were using.

    And they Knighted him?

  10. joe K

    Not so far fetched after all

    @ Torben and Jon B - If you read carefully he made those observations in the 1930's. That was close to 30 years before a man was ever recorded to run 100m in under 10 seconds. Current olympic male swimmers swim the 50m freestyle almost 10 seconds quicker than they did back in the 30s, and assuming a similar quadratic relationship ( based on drag) between speed and force implies that swimming 20 percent quicker times requires close to one and a half times the power.

  11. Alistair

    No Wei

    I hope the force in "Pounds" was measured in a standard Olympic-sized swimming pool and not one of those new-fangled New Orleans Superdome sized measuring vessels.

    Mines the one with the dog eared 1980's school physics textbook in the pocket.

  12. Mark S

    Biologists ARE scientistists too, really

    Several years ago a Canadian polar bear biologist was interviewed about a large group of (normally solitary) adult bears who had gathered around a pod of beluga whales that had become trapped in a hole in sea ice too extensive for them to swim to the next clear spot (i.e. they would have suffocated under the ice).

    The bears took their time slashing the whales with their claws from the ice and in the water, and when a whale got weak enough one would pull it onto the ice and the group would feast peacefully.

    The interviewer asked the biologist how a polar bear could possibly pull a whale out of the water and up onto the ice. His answer, in all its technical glory: "... I guess they're very strong..."

    The penguin, because, you know, the OTHER polar region...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @joe K

    So the 60-70 pounds figure, is of a 2008 olympian? I'm not sure I get this, he knew about drag then as well of course.. So a '30s Olympian would produce 2/3 the power or 40 pounds.

    But the dolphin was still just as fast, so why did he estimate the dolphin at 20 pounds?

  14. joe K

    Ironic Irony

    @ Tony - Applying cutting edge mathematical techniques to every day problems is a particularly useful way of engaging with your average Joe Bloggs, making the subject seem more interesting to prospective undergrad students and actually verifying the accuracy and reliabilty of the said technique. The same nonlinear computational tools used to model light waves in speciality fibres for high bit rate telecoms could be applied to modelling rogue sea waves as an example. And as a clincher for you, Wei has also used his unique video-based tools towards helping vascular and neurosurgeons solve fluid problems in the human body according to his departmental website. (cue rapturous applause from you)

  15. J

    Reg commentards are all so smart...

    I wonder why they waste their unparalleled geniuses being mere IT workers, really, when they are surely way better qualified to solving the Universe's problems than any of those so-called scientists.

  16. Del Merritt

    Watch out where the huskies go...

    ... at least that's what first popped into my mind at the phrase "mush force". Which is sort of relevant, after all, doggone it.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    @ac - When I was at school... we used Newtons.

    Hopefully that was fig newtons.

    Hope I don't have to give up my chunky light porpoise.

  18. Michael Miller

    At again are we?

    "calculate precisely how mush force the dolphin was producing."

    Proofread first, pub later................

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How much is that in dollars?

  20. Paul Schofield

    @ AC - Dolphins

    ... is there anything they can't do?

    errrr...... Fire......

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Can't be bothered to solve the Universe's problem. Would take too much effort to do it by ourself.

    Anyway we know the answer...42

    regarding the dolphins dancing on the tail... well may be they know the trick how to make gravity look in the other direction.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still more they can't do


  23. Anonymous Coward


    Were they tested for illegal substances?

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