Remoras are the ocean’s hitchhikers. Also known as suckerfish, whalesuckers or sharksuckers, the one-to-three-foot long swimmers anchor themselves to blue whales or zebra sharks with a suction cup-like disc that “sits on their head like a flat, sticky hat,” according .
But these suckerfish aren’t just mooching a free ride. This year, researchers found that the fish can actually “surf” along their chauffeur’s back while the pair is in transit. The remoras glide along their host’s body, clustering near a whale’s blowhole and dorsal fin where there is minimal drag—all the while nibbling on dead skin and parasites.Researchers Brooke Flammang, Jeremy Goldbogen and their teams found that the remora’s choice location is key to hanging on. The area between the blowhole and dorsal fin, especially on blue whales, has “much lower-velocity fluid” than if it were “just a few centimeters higher” on the whale’s body, Flammang tells the Times.Flammang, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has already gotten to work on an artificial suction disk inspired by the remora that she hopes will be used to attach cameras and tracking devices to endangered marine animals, like blue whales. Currently, researchers use regular suction cups to fasten cameras to their research subjects, but those only keep their grip from 24 to 48 hours. Flammang’s new device will stay on for weeks and reduce drag. She and her team are currently testing the disc on compliant surfaces as well as designing a remora-shaped casing for the camera. Eventually, they’ll field test the device on live animals, including whales, dolphins, sharks and manta rays.
“Bioinspired advances in attachment developed by Dr. Flammang’s lab will revolutionize how we are able to get tags on animals with greater success and efficacy,” Goldbogen, a marine biologist at Stanford University, writes to Smithsonian magazine. “Maybe future tags could not only attach but also surf and crawl just like remoras to the ideal spot for specific physiological sampling.”