Numerous aquatic creatures have developed various specialized features to survive in their aquatic habitat, and among these adaptations, the flipper is particularly intriguing. The flipper is a unique appendage that has emerged in several sea-dwelling species as a means of propulsion underwater.
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A variety of marine animals possess flippers, including killer whales, elephant seals, porpoises, walruses, and penguins, to name a few. These distinctive body structures enable these animals to navigate and move through the water with great efficiency.
List of Animals With Flippers
Scientific Name: Trichechus
Swimming Speed: 15 mph
Marine mammals called manatees typically inhabit shallow water regions in rivers, bays, and estuaries. They are sizable, leisurely creatures that feed on seagrass vegetation. With a barrel-shaped physique, these mammals sport a pair of flippers that are distinctly paddle-shaped, serving both as steering and eating tools.
Remarkably, adult manatees possess flippers that are shorter and stubbier than those of juveniles. Known for their docile and placid nature, manatees can serve as ideal emotional support animals for individuals in need.
Scientific Name: Otariinae
Swimming Speed: 25 mph
Sea lions, akin to other aquatic creatures, spend the majority of their lives in the water, only coming ashore to rest or slumber. Despite being able to move on land, their swimming ability surpasses their walking capability, resulting in their aquatic lifestyle. To aid in their swimming and balancing, these animals possess flippers that allow them to manoeuvre and navigate through the water.
Additionally, sea lions can turn their hind paws, which function as a rudder, to assist in steering, and they also use their flippers to move on land. Notably, their flippers differ from those of other seals, being shorter and more rounded, with increased flexibility that facilitates their smooth swimming. Furthermore, it is common for sea lions to employ their flippers to grasp food, such as fish, from the water.
Scientific Name: Odobenus rosmarus
Swimming Speed: 22 mph
Walruses, the amicable inhabitants of the Arctic Ocean, are sizeable aquatic animals that possess flippers. Notably intelligent creatures have large, flat, and webbed limbs, with five bony digits on each fore and hind flipper. Additionally, their flippers are covered with a thick and rough layer of skin.
On land, these flippers serve as support, with the front two limbs carrying the animal’s weight. However, in the water, the flippers stabilize their body and provide propulsion. Walruses also utilize their flippers for feeding, as they can scoop up clams and mussels from the ocean floor with them.
Leatherback Sea Turtles
Scientific Name: Dermochelyidae
Swimming Speed: 22 mph
The leatherback turtle is an intriguing creature that can weigh over 900 kilograms and measure more than 2 meters in length. Among sea turtle species, most can submerge up to 1.2 kilometres in depth and remain underwater for over two hours. To navigate the ocean’s expanse, leatherbacks employ their lengthy and powerful flippers.
Additionally, when these turtles venture onto beaches for sun-basking, they use their flippers to aid in walking. Remarkably, the front flippers of leatherback turtles can extend up to 2.7 meters in length, making them the most extensive flippers among sea turtles.
Scientific Name: Orcinus orca
Swimming Speed: 35 mph
Killer whales are dominant predators in the ocean, capable of catching significant prey like sharks and other whales. Belonging to the cetacean group of mammals, specifically the Delphinidae family, orcas are closely related to dolphins. However, unlike their dolphin relatives, killer whales possess notable features that differentiate them from other species.
These features include large flippers and a powerful fluke, which befit their size. With their black and white colouration, orcas are sometimes called the “dalmatians of the seas,” as their dorsal part and flippers are black while areas around their eyes and parts of their lower body are white.
Scientific Name: Mirounga
Swimming Speed: 10 mph
When discussing aquatic animals with flippers, elephant seals are a must-mention. These trunked sea animals reside in coastal waters and spend the majority of their time at sea, only coming ashore to give birth and breed. They can be observed in locations such as New Zealand and Macquarie Island in Antarctica.
Among the seal family, these large creatures boast some of the most powerful hind flippers, which enable them to propel through the water like champions. However, while these hind flippers are ideal for swimming, they hinder the elephant seals’ movement on land since they cannot rotate them for use. Consequently, the seals rely solely on their short front flippers and drag their hind flippers behind them when moving on land.
Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Swimming Speed: 17 mph
To speak of sea creatures with flippers, we cannot overlook beluga whales, who inhabit the Arctic Ocean. They belong to the Monodontidae family and are one of two species.
These whales measure around 3.5 to 5 meters in length and weigh approximately 1.5 tons. Despite having small flippers, they are incredibly powerful and allow the whales to swim at impressive speeds of up to 17 miles per hour. Moreover, their strong tail muscles help them turn and stop swiftly.
What sets beluga whales apart is that their forelimbs are pectoral, resembling those of some land animals. Their flippers are small and rounded, and they use them mainly for navigation in the ocean.
Amazon River Dolphins
Scientific Name: Inia geoffrensis
Swimming Speed: 35 mph
Toxins in the Amazon River have led to the Amazon River dolphin, or boto, being designated as a vulnerable species. These pink dolphins are the most well-known members of their family in freshwater habitats. However, their numbers have dwindled to only 2,000 in the wild.
This dolphin species is also the largest of the river dolphins, with a long and slender body and a distinctive, beak-like snout. Their pink colouration is reflected in their four-digit flippers, which are utilized for swimming and steering through the fast currents of the Amazon River. Despite this, their strong tails are the primary means of propulsion through the water.
Scientific Name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Swimming Speed: 15 mph
Humpback whales are some of the biggest creatures in the world. Their lengthy, flat pectoral fins, found on either side of their body, are the most extended flippers among all mammals. These flippers are designed specifically for propulsion and manoeuvring in water, as well as for steering and creating thrust to move through the oceans.
The humpback whale’s flippers are distinct in that they have bumps or tubercles on them, which aid in improving water flow by decreasing the drag that would normally be caused by the whale’s movement through the oceans. These large forelimbs can measure nearly five meters in length, making them the longest flippers of any animal.
Scientific Name: Spheniscidae
Swimming Speed: 7.6 mph
Penguins are known for their webbed feet and flippers, which are important for their aquatic lifestyle. The flippers, specifically, play a significant role in swimming and hunting for fish. Penguins are unique in that they can only move their flippers from the shoulder joint, as their elbow and wrist are fused, providing more power for swimming but less flexibility.
Despite having feathers on their flippers, they are small and densely packed and are not used for flight. Instead, they help penguins streamline their body and reduce drag underwater, while also providing insulation against cold weather.
In addition to swimming, penguins utilize their flippers for communication purposes. They use their flippers to pat or tap each other’s flippers during courtship and also to display aggression.
Scientific Name: Phocoena phocoena
Swimming Speed: 9 mph
This creature can be found in the coastal areas of subtropical and cold-temperate waters, such as the North Atlantic and North Pacific. The Harbor Porpoise is a marine mammal that is smaller than dolphins, weighing between 60-80 kilograms, with females being larger than males.
They have small, dark-coloured flippers and fins, both with a round to oval shape. Despite their small size, they can swim at speeds of up to 9 miles per hour with the help of their fins and tail.
Harbor Porpoises have small, round heads without a beak, unlike dolphins. Their stocky bodies are mainly dark brown with a white underside that starts halfway up their sides.
A distinguishing feature of this creature is a small, triangular fin located just past the centre of its back.
Scientific Name: Dugong dugon
Swimming Speed: 6.5 mph
The dugong, a peculiar marine mammal, belongs to the same order (Sirenia) as manatees. These creatures reside in the coastal regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Dugongs have a round body, tail, long snout with a mouth, and whiskers. They also have a pair of nostrils on top of their nose and two flippers that allow them to walk on the ocean floor.
The paddle-like flippers act as forelimbs that help with turning and slowing down. Dugongs showcase beautiful swimming strokes, which use their fluked tail and front flippers. These movements appear graceful and slow to observers. The flippers of dugongs resemble paddles, providing propulsion when swimming and stability when on land.
Scientific Name: Phocoena sinus
Swimming Speed: 9 mph
The Gulf of California is home to the world’s rarest flippers-bearing animal, the Vaquita. Unfortunately, the species is critically endangered, with fewer than 10 individuals remaining in the wild today. Vaquita is considered the smallest and most endangered cetacean on Earth and belongs to the porpoise family.
They usually grow up to 1.5 meters in length, and their weight does not exceed 50 kilograms. Vaquita’s flippers are small, triangular in shape, and larger in females than males. However, the most noticeable feature of this creature is its triangular fin, which is more prominent in females than in males.
Rahul M Suresh
Visiting the Zoo can be an exciting and educational experience for all involved. As a guide, I have the privilege of helping students and visitors alike to appreciate these animals in their natural habitat as well as introducing them to the various aspects of zoo life. I provide detailed information about the individual animals and their habitats, giving visitors an opportunity to understand each one more fully and appreciate them in a more intimate way.