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In their natural environment, fish must swim stably through unsteady flows and vortices, including vertical vortices, typically shed by posts in a flow, horizontal cross-flow vortices, often produced by a step or a waterfall in a stream, and streamwise vortices, where the axis of rotation is aligned with the direction of the flow. Streamwise vortices are commonly shed by bluff bodies in streams and by ships’ propellers and axial turbines, but we know little about their effects on fish. Here, we describe how bluegill sunfish use more energy and are destabilized more often in flow with strong streamwise vorticity. The vortices were created inside a sealed flow tank by an array of four turbines with similar diameter to the experimental fish. We measured oxygen consumption for seven sunfish swimming at 1.5 body lengths (BL) s−1 with the turbines rotating at 2 Hz and with the turbines off (control). Simultaneously, we filmed the fish ventrally and recorded the fraction of time spent maneuvering side-to-side and accelerating forward. Separately, we also recorded lateral and ventral video for a combination of swimming speeds (0.5, 1.5 and 2.5 BL s−1 ) and turbine speeds (0, 1, 2 and 3 Hz), immediately after turning the turbines on and 10 min later to test for accommodation. Bluegill sunfish are negatively affected by streamwise vorticity. Spills (loss of heading), maneuvers and accelerations were more frequent when the turbines were on than in the control treatment. These unsteady behaviors, particularly acceleration, correlated with an increase in oxygen consumption in the vortex flow. Bluegill sunfish are generally fast to recover from roll perturbations and do so by moving their pectoral fins. The frequency of spills decreased after the turbines had run for 10 min, but was still markedly higher than in the control, showing that fish partially adapt to streamwise vorticity, but not completely. Coping with streamwise vorticity may be an important energetic cost for stream fishes or migratory fishes.


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Journal of Experimental Biology, 218.

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