Many animals like ducks have evolved features to be able to swim. Even not so aquatic animals like a tiger evolved so that its feet can act as paddles. In humans I don't see any direct feature that has specifically evolved for the purpose of swimming. So is it just luck that we are able to swim and some of our cousins like gorillas are not able to swim? Or did we evolve in some way to be able to swim

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    $\begingroup$ I think you have the question backwards. It'd seem to be more reasonable to ask whether there are animals that CAN'T swim. I can't think of any offhand: certainly most of those I'm familiar with can. Some, like dogs, actually enjoy it. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Well, of course, with questions of this sort nobody knows. However before posting you might ask whether there is any reason that the ability to swim has been so advantageous to our ancestors that it has been subject to evolutionary selection. You might also think about the habitat of such ancestors. It is interesting that in fishing communities (e.g. in Scotland) most fishermen had never learned to swim. Why not? Because if your boat flounders in a gale you drown, whether or not you can swim. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf oh... I thought there are many animals that can't swim. I know hippos drown in water, but they can maneuver easily and water is their forte, there maybe animals that don't float and may not be able to learn to swim $\endgroup$
    – user41965
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @David interesting to know. I thought there are some definite traits in humans which show how we evolved to be able to swim, which I don't know, but many people who study these things may know. $\endgroup$
    – user41965
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @user41965: I don't think there are many. For just mammals, it seems that the only ones that actually can't swim are giraffes: bbc.com/earth/story/… (I suppose you could argue about whether what hippos do in the water actually counts as swimming.) The difference seems to be that with most mammals, swimming is pretty much instinctive, while with humans & other great apes, it has to be learned - even if, as in my case, the learning was a matter of the bigger kids pushing you into the deep part of the creek :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


The Jane Goodall website says: "You’ll rarely see a chimp paddling about in the water as they don’t like to swim. Their low body fat ratio causes them to sink and their top heavy body composition makes it difficult for them to keep their heads above water. However, some chimpanzees do enjoy a good splash around in shallow water."

Some monkeys have been taught to swim, see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2vekGuV8xA

So, the answer is, it's just luck that humans are quite good swimmers compared to other monkeys, because strong bipedal running and legs also gives humans good stability in water. After us the best swimmer is the proboscis monkey. Many other monkeys do play in water and swim: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn-M1kCvzLg

There are many studies that theorize that modern humans have evolved beside seas and rivers.

Here's a massive infographin on the subject: https://visual.ly/community/Infographics/science/possible-aquatic-adaptations-human

Humans crossed the open ocean at least 50,000 years ago, i.e. to colonize Australia, the oldest evidence of fishing is currently from East Timor, 42,000 year old fishing hooks: https://www.livescience.com/17186-oldest-fish-hooks-early-humans.html#:~:text=Their%20discovery%20uncovered%20fishing%20hooks,%2C%22%20O'Connor%20said.

  • $\begingroup$ I was also thinking the same, the fat and size of our lungs can be attributed to our energy needs. Which are probably not meant for swimming, but I'm guessing they play a role. I've heard theories about the reason we lost body hair may be due to living in seas. Of course water is the source of life and it makes sense that humanity thrives near water bodies. But I don't see any features in humans (that I know of) that have evolved to make swimming easier. But such an important skill like "swimming" just being our luck and not evolution.. I mean, what're the odds, Idk... $\endgroup$
    – user41965
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ I put some other evidence of monkeys swimming, It's interesting the difference between baboons who swim and run very well like dogs, and big forest apes like chimps which swim completely differently. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ @com.prehensible however the way each kind of ape/monkey is swimming, I think the main reason we're able to swim (as long as we don't have paddles) is because we're able to float reasonably well and we can put our nose out of the water while maintaining the position. Now that I think of it, and I've searched and found this link news.com/biology/science-chimpanzees-orangutans-swim- maybe many animals can swim, but maybe they just don't learn to do it $\endgroup$
    – user41965
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 10:01

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