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Staying Together Through Schools and Flocks

Flock of Seagulls, the band, aren’t the only seagulls with rhythm. Flocks of birds and schools of fish move in harmony, which allows them to stay together when traveling in their own unique, uniform shapes. The way schools of fish or flocks of birds swim or fly is adjusted based on the type of water or air they are in, but regardless of how they are moving, they’re flapping their fins or wings in unison with the others in their group. This uniformity creates a wake which keeps them from colliding into each other or falling behind.

While there are many aspects in play, it’s a lot like someone walking in front of you on a trail and the shoeprints they leave behind acting as a guide for you to follow. As you walk, you step into their shoe prints. Too close or too far, and the follower may fall out of sync, but maintain an even distance and everyone will be in sync with the leader and each other. Birds and fish move in the same way to form distinctive and uniform schools or flocks. Beyond informing the curious, this information can be used in engineering applications, such as energy harvesting.

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