Can Giraffes Swim?

Can giraffes swim?

If you are at all like us at Commonplace Fun Facts, you often lie awake at night, pondering things such as, “Why does walking with a cup of coffee cause it to spill?” or “If Tic Tacs contain 94.5% sugar, why are they labeled as sugar-free?

If so, you undoubtedly have been plagued with insomnia, wondering if giraffes are able to swim. Now, thanks to intrepid researchers, we can put that question — and you — to rest.

“High Diving Giraffes” video credit: Cube Creative Productions

Can giraffes swim? That’s a good question. After all, when is the last time you have seen one doing laps at your neighborhood YMCA? There is this fascinating video showing high diving giraffes, but it owes its existence far more to digital special effects than to the aquatic skills of giraffes.

To be fair, it isn’t as if giraffes are particularly motivated to learn how to swim. Their unique physiology allows them to venture into pretty deep water without getting their heads wet. A typical adult male can stand 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall, so a lake, river, or swimming pool would have to have a water depth equivalent to the height of a 2-story building before a giraffe would even have to think about putting on a life preserver or learning how to do the doggy-paddle giraffe-paddle.

Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s say that a giraffe does find itself in over its significantly-elevated head. The research to this point has been disappointingly sparse. There have, however, been several notable comments in published pieces referencing a captive giraffe who managed to escape from its crate and fall off the end of a boat. The bewildered creature did not have long to enjoy its hard-fought freedom because it immediately sank to the bottom of the Hudson River. Video and photographic evidence occasionally shows giraffes wading into deep water, but definitive observations of them swimming have been as elusive as good pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, or someone who actually likes to eat those nasty marshmallow circus peanut candies.

There is good reason to question whether a giraffe is sufficiently buoyant to be able to swim. At the very least, it is fair to say that its unusual shape, skeletal, and muscular structure do not lend themselves to making the giraffe the first to be chosen for the aquatics competitions at the Animal Kingdom Olympics.

Recognizing the serious lack of academic treatment to the swimming giraffe dilemma, Researchers Donald M. Henderson and Darren Naish turned their highly-educated attention to our long-necked animal friends, hoping to answer the question, once and for all.

Henderson and Naish published their research in an article, “Predicting the Buoyancy, Equilibrium and Potential Swimming Ability of Giraffes by Computational Analysis.” It appeared in 2010 in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

In case you are concerned about any animals being harmed in their research, we can assure you that their tests did not involve pushing a bunch of giraffes into the Hudson River to see what would happen. In an article for Scientific American, Naish noted, “Ethical and practical concerns make this hypothetical experiment impossible.” Instead, they attempted to answer the question through the use of computer modeling. They created a digital model of a giraffe and placed it in digital water.

In addition to dealing with the unusual shape of a giraffe, the resistance it would encounter when moving its limbs, and the friction of its body across the whole surface of the water, the researchers had to contend with the animal’s unusually-shaped lungs. Curiously, there is a bit of a disagreement among giraffeologists about the precise size, capacity, and positioning of these organs.

After factoring in all conceivable dynamics, the researchers drew their conclusion: giraffes can float, but they would be clumsy and unstable in the water. (Editor’s note: This is almost verbatim the same conclusion drawn about the editor by his college aquatics instructor).

Conclusions of the study. Image courtesy: Henderson and Naish. (Click on image to expand)

Now that this issue is settled, we would encourage anyone who has the time on their hands to contemplate the aforementioned circus peanut candy. Seriously, why is that still a thing? Only when this issue is resolved will we finally enjoy a much-needed sleep-filled night.

3 replies »

  1. It’s hard to believe that a question of this magnitude and importance to the giraffe community has gone unanswered for so many years. As a fellow ally, I commend your tireless research and devotion. Thanks to you, giraffes everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, and those of us who seek a more giraffe-inclusive world are one step closer!

    Liked by 1 person

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