Until recently, the leading edge of any wing, propellor, or other airfoil was smooth and streamlined. Even minor imperfections, such as caused by insect impacts, could effect performance. But instances in nature defy this wisdom. Look at the leading edge of the Humpback Whale’s fins and you’ll see a row of mighty bumps and ridges called tubercles. Dr. Frank Fish, an expert in biomechanics, discovered this one day after he incorrectly exclaimed that the fins on a whale sculpture had been reversed and was quickly corrected by the shop owner. As someone who was well versed with fluid dynamics, he realized the significance of this mistake. Such a fin structure could only evolve if at least part of the science of fluid dynamics was mistaken as well. From this realization followed years of research, a series of journal articles, and a patent on whalefin turbine technology. By using tubercle like ridges on the leading edge of wind turbines and other airfoils, Dr. Fish and others have found that they are able to increase the efficiency and resiliency of these devices.
For more information check out the WhalePower websites and their science section here.