Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Can giraffes swim?

Did you ever wonder if a giraffe can swim? I did after watching that animation! Now we have an answer. “Mathematics has proven that giraffes can swim - even though they wouldn't be very good at it and nobody has ever seen them do it” (Telegraph, 2010).

Two researchers decided to figure it out (Dr. Henderson & Dr. Nash). No, they did not throw a giraffe in to the pool. Dr Henderson had created a digital model of a giraffe, and had also tested the buoyancy of various computer generated models of animals in former studies. Their new study published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, examines a digital giraffe in digital water.

“Calculations were made to discover rotation dynamics, flotation dynamics and the external surface area of both a giraffe and - for control purposes - a horse” (telegraph, 2010).

They found that a full sized adult giraffe will become buoyant in around 9 feet of water. They can wade across shallower waters with no problem. You can see a video of real giraffes wading in a river here.

The giraffe would float in awkward positions, due to its shape and long legs. It would float facing downwards. The neck movement of a giraffe is very important to locomotion, and being in the water would hinder this. So, even though they can float, it would be uncomfortable and a giraffe would not be a good swimmer like a horse. Larger animals have slower muscle contractions, so it would be difficult for the giraffe to move forward while swimming.

So what good did this study do? “While this research is unlikely to have many practical applications, the authors says it emphasizes the point that computer simulations of animals - rather than real animals - can sometimes be used to answer interesting questions” (Telegraph, 2010). You can read the full study from the link below.


Henderson, D., Naish, D., 2010. Predicting the buoyancy, equilibrium and potential swimming ability of giraffes by computational analysis. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 265 (2). Pp. 151-159. Online. Available through Science Direct. [Accessed on 5/7/2013].

Telegraph, 2010. Maths formula proves giraffes can swim. Online. Available here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7793067/Maths-formula-proves-giraffes-can-swim.html

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