The Science of Bubble Rings

Great video of cooped up dolphins blowing underwater bubble rings to pass the time. Before we get all out of sorts that this is some sort of compulsive, depressive behavior from being locked up, note that this been observed in the wild as well.

I just can’t help but look at that and wish that I still smoked cigarettes. I used to be an epic ring blower. Andrew and I actually knew a kid named Michael Northrope who could blow smoke squares. It was awesome! No joke! We were like 13 and he was 16. But I digress…

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One bubble ring to bind them…

Researchers posting on Deep Ocean explain the physics of bubble rings, including a how-to description of making them yourself. It turns out that dolphins bubble rings are vortex rings just like smoke rings but are created in different ways:

(From Deep Ocean) Dolphins create bubble rings by blowing air in a water vortex ring: by flipping a fin they create a vortex ring of water. The then blow air in the ring, which goes to the center of the vortex ring. In the water vortex ring the natural location of the air is in the center of the vortex. When air and water move in a circular path like they do in the vortex ring, air and water are separated due to the centripetal force. Since density of water is larger than air, water moves at the outside, while the air ends up in the middle.


Something tells me these researchers didn’t spend their teenage afternoons smoking in the woods behind Earl’s house, blowing smoke squares to impress younger kids, but apparently they shared the same fascination… although now they work in a university laboratory and Michael Northrope is doing 5-10 years for aggravated assault in upstate Connecticut…just a hunch.

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Thanks to Steel Shaw for directing us to this video…


  1. #1 Physicalist
    January 28, 2008

    Very cool! Thanks for the video.

  2. #2 Physicalist
    January 28, 2008

    BTW, you can make smoke rings w/o cigarettes. My kid has one of these; they’re pretty neat (and packaged to be relatively non-violent).

  3. #3 jponderus
    January 28, 2008

    But the human-produced bubble-rings rise to the surface, as expected, whereas the dolphins’ appear to be driven in front of them by — what? Dolphin sonar?

  4. #4 Mrs Hilary Victoria Minor
    January 29, 2008

    The dolphins playing with bubble rings is just about the most magical and enchanting thing I’ve seen in a very long time! 🙂

  5. #5 neon
    April 27, 2009

    the dolphins’ appear to be driven in front of them by — what? Dolphin sonar????

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