Can Giraffes Float?
An online debate on this subject spurred Dr Darren Naish to investigate it further using computational analysis to predict a giraffe’s buoyancy in water and its potential swimming ability 1. It is often said that giraffes are unable to swim and will deliberately avoid water. Although rare film footage has caught them wading through deep rivers, no giraffe has ever actually been seen swimming. A logical experiment would involve immersing a giraffe in deep water and standing back to watch the consequences, but this would obviously be highly unethical.
Instead, Naish and Henderson devised a simulation-software experiment using mathematical formulas to determine rotation dynamics, flotation dynamics and a giraffe’s external surface area to create a digital replica of a giraffe in deep water.
Their findings indicate that an adult giraffe will float in 2.8m of water, although their unusual anatomy means that they assume a very clumsy and unstable posture. The neck is forced into a near-horizontal position and the giraffe’s high density bones lead to it sitting very low in the water.
Naish and Henderson summarised their research by stating ‘while it is not impossible for giraffes to swim, we speculate that they would perform poorly compared to other mammals and are hence likely to avoid swimming if possible.’