When I checked it seemed trivial to answer: yes, all mammals can swim. But research on the internet provided different information. I found:

Of each hit, I found other hits that claimed the reverse, sometimes with proof. Common sense tells me all mammals can swim, but is this true?

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    $\begingroup$ There are over 5,000 species of named, extant mammals. So to show that all can (or cannot) swim would be a monumental task. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin: fair enough. Yet, to prove that all mammals can swim may require research on each of the species, but to prove the opposite only requires proof that one species really can't swim. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well, what is your definition of swimming? That needs to be cleared before getting any further. $\endgroup$
    – CHM
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @CHM: the way I see it, moving through the water without drowning and without walking on the bottom of the river/lake. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ Plenty of primates swim, the Japanese macaque is famous for it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 2:25

2 Answers 2


With respect to the giraffe claim, this article seems relevant:

D. M. Henderson, D. Naish, Predicting the buoyancy, equilibrium and potential swimming ability of giraffes by computational analysis, J Theoretical Biology 265 (2010) 151-159.

It cites several non-"random person on the internet" claims that giraffes cannot swim:

It is generally thought that giraffes cannot swim, but relevant observations are few. Shortridge (1934) and Goodwin (1954) state that giraffes were poor waders and unable to swim. Crandall (1964) discussed a case where a captive giraffe escaped from a carrying crate, ran to the end of a jetty, and fell into the water. The animal reportedly sank without making any attempt to swim. MacClintock (1973, p. 54) stated ‘Giraffes cannot swim. Rivers are barriers they do not cross’. Wood (1982, p. 20) noted that ‘Because of its extraordinarily anatomical shape the giraffe is one of the very few mammals that cannot swim – even in an emergency! Deep rivers are an impassable barrier to them, and they will avoid large expanses of water like the plague’.

They then go on to show that a model giraffe could plausibly swim, writing: "For practical and ethical reasons we are unable to use live giraffes..."

They conclude:

In summary, the results and speculations of this study show that it is not impossible that a giraffe could propel itself in water, but in terms of energy efficiency relative to that of the horse, it would appear that the costs of aquatic locomotion might be too high. It is reasonable to expect that giraffes would be hesitant to enter water knowing that they would be at a decided disadvantage compared to being on solid ground.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Interesting, nice find! I just found out that hippos can't swim either, because they're too dense and would sink. They "walk" across the bottom. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ I feel like the answer by Kin invalidates the part of the quoted claim that says "Rivers are barriers they do not cross", perhaps deep rivers yes but there is video showing them at least attempting to cross a river. Not that this is evidence of them swimming, because it looks like they're just walking. $\endgroup$
    – User
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 7:38

I have found videos of porcupines, armadillos, anteaters.. all swimming. The porcupine seemed to have no trouble at all.

As for apes - quite well it seems. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/20/new-surprising-video-shows-apes-swimming/

Rhinos: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbqF4AA0Z8U The water looks deeper than it's head at times, for sure. But whether it is actually swimming or can just/almost reach the bottom is unclear.

Giraffes: http://www.arkive.org/giraffe/giraffa-camelopardalis/video-ti06.html

It seems to me that if these animals couldn't manage at all in the water, that they wouldn't likely do so, from an evolutionary standpoint.

I'm sure not all manage terribly well, but the videos seem to show that they managed at least.

Pretty cool. :)

  • $\begingroup$ The video of the giraffes shows that they don't swim, as the moment that they consider it too deep, they instantly return to shore. And indeed, the rhino walks across the bottom of the riverbed. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 15:38

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