Mother Nature Gives Hints To Open Water Swimmers

Mother Nature Gives Hints To Open Water Swimmers

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming has written before on how geese can help open water swimmers by giving them hints on where to draft.

Geese flying in formation is one example of nature’s organizational biomimetics. That is, when geese migrate to another location, they fly in a V formation…for various reasons:

By flying in a V formation, the entire flock increases flight efficiency by 71% vs. a solo bird flying alone. Obviously, geese and professional marathon swimmers who tend to swim in tight packs have something in common in their mutual need to get to their destination quicker and easier.

When a goose temporarily drops from the V formation, the bird feels a greater air resistance and quickly comes back to the formation. An important hint to swimmers who may fall off the back of a pack – and should swim as fast as they can to hang onto the end of the pack.

When the lead goose gets tired of leading the formation, the bird goes to the end of the V formation and another goes takes the lead. When the geese fly in a V formation, they quack in order to encourage the lead bird, enabling the entire flock to continue flying at the same speed.

When a goose gets tired, injured or sick and the bird leaves the V formation, other birds also leave the formation and fly with the slower bird to help and protect until the slower bird recovers or dies.

So what can open water swimmers learn from a bumblebee? Bumblebees can instinctively solve the ‘Traveling Salesman Problem‘ – which is a challenge to find the shortest route between a collection of locations.

According to University of London researcher Dr Nigel Raine, bumblebees solve a complex mathematical problem to find the shortest possible route between sources of food. “Foraging bees solve traveling salesman problems every day. They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.”

The analogy to open water swimmers going from point-to-point around turn buoys is not a difficult stretch of imagination.

Despite their tiny brains, bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behavior. We need to understand how they can solve the ‘Traveling Salesman Problem’ without a computer. What shortcuts do they use? Our lifestyle relies on networks such as traffic on the roads, information flow on the Web and business supply chains. By understanding how bees can solve their problem with such a tiny brain we can improve our management of these everyday networks without needing lots of computer time.”

Dolphins, of course, swim effortlessly and efficiently – and give us hints on how best to swim.

Dolphins are great examples of streamlined efficiency in the water. They have no necks or knees like humans – which lead humans to have all kinds of inefficiencies in the water -which is why top open water coaches are adamant on keeping one’s head still and in line with one’s spine while swimming.

What is interesting is when we look at how dolphins breathe and how they use various drafting techniques to swim at high speeds. While swimming fast, dolphins come to the surface in a series of rhythmic leaps that takes less energy than to swim the same distance underwater. We have noticed similarly slight changes in the stroke style of top swimmers when they are faced with surface chop.

And similar to geese and experienced open water swimmers, young dolphins often draft by swimming below the mid-section of the mother, taking advantage of flow structure and energy savings, reportedly up to 60%. Dolphins also surf down the bow waves created by ships – a trick that experienced open water swimmers use, especially as they take advantage of swells in the ocean (to a much lesser degree than dolphins) and waves at the end of the race.

Mother Nature, she teaches us so much.

Underwater photo of open water swimmers from Deep Blue Media. Photo of dolphin by NASA.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones