Think Giraffes Can't Swim? Science Proves They Can

Giraffes standing by a body of water in a dry landscape.

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It's long been thought that giraffes, with their tall necks and spindly legs, were incapable of swimming – unlike virtually every other mammal on the planet. But thanks to a team of researchers, who are strangely curious about such things, it's been proven once and for all that giraffes can indeed handle a dip. Figuring out giraffes possessed this surprising aquatic ability was actually a lot easier than you might think, requiring no special water wings or pool – in fact, not even a giraffe. Two university professors, Dr. Donald Henderson and Dr. Darren Naish, decided to test the long-held belief that the long-necked animals could not remain upright in the water or float due to its odd weight distribution. As the professors note in their study, "we sought to test the hypothesis that giraffes exhibited a body shape or density unsuited for locomotion in water."

But rather than plop a real giraffe in a pool to observe what would happen, the researchers used computer-generated models.

Giraffe Simulations

A giraffe drinking out of a water hole.

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After plugging in a few details of the animal into a computer, such as weight and mass, they let the digital giraffe take the plunge, and guess what – it floats! Still, it's unlikely they'll win any dog-paddling competitions, say the researchers.

Giraffes, they discovered, would become buoyant in around 9 feet of water, but their shape would make the experience awkward for the animal. Because of their generous front limbs, the giraffe's body angles forward in the water which would make keeping their head above water a bit tricky.

Dr. Naish explains:

"Our models show that while it's feasible for a giraffe to swim, it is much harder than it is for a horse. It is fair to say that giraffes might be hesitant to enter the water knowing that they are at a decided disadvantage compared to being on solid ground."

A Safe Research Approach

Giraffes standing by a watering hole in a subsaharan landscape.

Timon Schneider / Getty Images

Naish and Henderson's study, while not likely to earn them a Nobel Prize, is noteworthy for its approach to using digitally modeled animals in place of the real things – a fact I'm sure the giraffes would appreciate. Just don't expect to see any giraffes out at the pool or on the beach this summer even though we know they can swim, however – they'll have a hard enough time finding a swimsuit that doesn't make their neck look big.