Fish mouths as engineering structures for vortical cross-step filtration
Suspension-feeding fishes such as goldfish and whale sharks retain prey without clogging their oral filters, whereas clogging is a major expense in industrial crossflow filtration of beer, dairy foods and biotechnology products. Fishes’ abilities to retain particles that are smaller than the pore size of the gill-raker filter, including extraction of particles despite large holes in the filter, also remain unexplained. Here we show that unexplored combinations of engineering structures (backward-facing steps forming d-type ribs on the porous surface of a cone) cause fluid dynamic phenomena distinct from current biological and industrial filter operations. This vortical cross-step filtration model prevents clogging and explains the transport of tiny concentrated particles to the oesophagus using a hydrodynamic tongue. Mass transfer caused by vortices along d-type ribs in crossflow is applicable to filter-feeding duck beak lamellae and whale baleen plates, as well as the fluid mechanics of ventilation at fish gill filaments.