Home Animals Animals That Cannot Swim? 5 Illustrative Examples

Animals That Cannot Swim? 5 Illustrative Examples

hippo with fish

Some animals are born to swim, while others have to learn the skill over time. However, there are a few animal species that are unable to master swimming. Chimpanzees, gorillas, tortoises, hippos, and giraffes are some examples of animals that can’t swim. 

These animals primarily avoid going into deep water due to their physical structure. Unlike hippos, they don’t have the natural buoyancy to keep them afloat. While these animals may not be able to swim, they have evolved other abilities and adaptations that have allowed them to become successful in their respective habitats.  

What animals can’t swim?


Animals That Cannot Swim

Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, share a significant amount of DNA with humans. However, like us, they are not naturally adept swimmers.

Although chimps are not skilled swimmers, they do occasionally enjoy wading in shallow waters. However, they typically avoid venturing into deep water.

The primary reason for their limited swimming ability lies in their robust bone structure. Additionally, their muscular bodies and low body fat hinder their buoyancy in the water.

As a result, when chimps find themselves in deep water, they tend to sink rapidly and struggle to keep their heads above the surface, often leading to tragic outcomes.


Unlike their aquatic relatives, tortoises are not capable of swimming. Unlike turtles, they have not undergone physical adaptations to become proficient swimmers.

Tortoises have bent legs and clawed toes, which are well-suited for traversing land but not for manoeuvring in the water.

Their shells are also bulkier and heavier compared to those of turtles. While the shell serves as a protective barrier against predators on land, it hinders their ability to swim effectively.

The weight of a tortoise’s shell can range from 5 to 30 pounds, depending on its age and size. However, the heaviest recorded tortoise, the Galapagos tortoise, weighed around 880 pounds.

Although tortoises are unable to swim, most of them have the ability to float to some extent due to the presence of air in their bodies.


do hippo eat fish

Hippos, the semi-aquatic giants native to Sub-Saharan Africa, have a unique relationship with water. They can be frequently spotted in rivers and lakes during the daytime, where they spend an average of 16 hours per day.

The primary reason for their water-dwelling behaviour is their sensitive skin, which cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to the sun. To cool off, hippos seek refuge in the water during the day. As evening falls and the sun recedes, they venture out for their second favourite activity: grazing on grass.

Although hippos spend a significant amount of time in the water, they are actually unable to swim. This might seem surprising considering their aquatic lifestyle. The explanation lies in their dense bones and heavy bodies. An average male hippo can weigh around 4,000 pounds, making swimming a challenge for them. Instead of swimming, they navigate by walking along the river or lake bottom. When they need to breathe, they rise to the surface and quickly inhale before submerging again.

Interestingly, hippos display territorial behaviour only in the water. While on land, they focus on feeding and generally ignore other animals around them.


Gorillas, like their primate relatives, lack the ability to swim. Similar to chimpanzees, gorillas are not naturally inclined towards swimming and tend to avoid water altogether.

Much like a non-swimmer, gorillas exhibit a natural caution and fear towards the water. Some gorillas in captivity have been observed using sticks to gauge the depth of water, highlighting their wariness.

Fortunately, gorillas do not rely on water for their hydration needs. They obtain sufficient water through their diet, which means they rarely need to drink water directly.

The reasons behind their inability to swim align with those of their close relatives, chimpanzees. Their low-fat bodies, large muscles, and heavy bones collectively hinder their swimming capabilities.


Imagine a giraffe dipping its long neck into a river and gracefully swimming its way across. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Well, that’s because giraffes are one of the few animals in the world that cannot swim. As the largest terrestrial animals on the planet, it’s no surprise that they struggle with the concept of swimming. 

Male giraffes can tower up to 14 feet tall and weigh up to a whopping 1,500 pounds! But why can’t they swim? Despite being able to float due to their body mass, their bulky and massive legs prevent them from swimming properly. However, our giraffe friends shouldn’t worry too much about missing out on aquatic adventures. 

Final Words

Swimming plays a vital role in the survival of many animals in the wild. Whether it’s for hunting water animals, escaping predators, or simply living in aquatic environments, water is an irreplaceable component of their lives. While most creatures instinctively know how to swim from an early age, some need to develop their skills through rigorous practice from birth. 

However, there are also animals that don’t possess the ability to swim at all. Despite living near water, these creatures must find other ways to survive. One can’t help but wonder how these animals adapted to their surroundings, and what unique skills they possess to make up for their lack of swimming ability.


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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.

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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.


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