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A Whale of an Idea

How one mammal spawned an entire industry

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This story appears in the December 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It all started with a whale and a man named Fish.

As the story goes, Frank Fish was on vacation with his fiancée in Boston when he spotted a fine-art sculpture of a humpback whale in Quincy Market. On closer inspection, he noticed the flippers had bumps on the edges.

"I thought 'The artist got this all wrong,'" he recalls with great clarity despite the passage of almost 30 years. "But when the store manager pulled out a picture of the real deal, it had prominences, too. I was blown away."

Fish, a plain-spoken and affable biology professor at West Chester University in West Chester, Penn., had always assumed these wing-like extremities worked like other straight-edge airfoils, such as airplane wings. But then he realized that he had been wrong. And that fateful revelation changed his life forever.

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