MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Is it true that gorillas can't swim?

Date: Fri Oct 9 09:04:45 1998
Posted By: Thomas M. Greiner, Assistant Professor of Anatomy / Physical Anthropology, New York Chiropractic College
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 907021136.Zo

Is it true that gorillas can't swim? I've actually heard this claim before; 
I also heard it regarding chimpanzees. Still, having heard the statement 
does not make it true.

I've checked several sources, and I can find no reference to gorillas and 
swimming. There are some mentions in the monographs on gorilla behavior 
that these animals will avoid crossing streams -- but this includes streams 
that they could easily wade across. Clearly, swimming is not the issue, but 
rather that gorillas simply do not like to go into the water. As far as I 
know, no one has ever thrown a gorilla into the water and watched what 
happened. So, the only correct answer I give to your question is: I don't 

If you will allow me to indulge in some speculation, I may be able to come 
up with a reasonable guess as to basis of this idea. Every animal can 
float, simply because we have large air filled cavities in our bodies (the 
lungs). For most quadrupedal (four footed) animals, the act of swimming 
involves the same basic activities as the act of walking or running. Think 
about the "dog paddle." This means that the animal does not need to "learn" 
how to swim. It's basically moving about in the same fashion that it always 
does. Add to that, the fact that the basic quadrupedal body plan positions 
the nose and mouth so that they point forward, a quadrupedal animal can 
breath and swim at the same time.

Now consider humans. For us, swimming involves the use of all four limbs in 
a way that is completely different to how they are used during walking. 
None of our walking and running skills translate well to swimming. In 
addition, our mouth and nose faces in the same direction as our belly, so 
that the mouth and nose are in the water when we swim. Without taking 
special actions (such as turning our head to the side) we cannot breath and 
swim at the same time. This means that for humans, swimming is basically a 
learned activity. It is not a natural extension of our normal behavior.

Back to gorillas. A gorilla has a body structure that is sort of half way 
between that of humans and the basic quadruped. Its mouth and nose do not 
face toward its belly, but they do not exactly face forward either. 
Although the gorilla is a quadrupedal animal, it is also partially erect. 
This means that its normal walking pattern would not necessarily be 
completely effective as a swimming stroke.

So, my best guess for an answer to your question is that gorillas can swim, 
but they are not very good at it. Given the choice, they will go to great 
lengths to avoid putting themselves in a position where they would need to 
swim. Still, I suspect that a gorilla could learn how to swim so as to be 
as good or better than most human swimmers.

Current Queue | Current Queue for Zoology | Zoology archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Zoology.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-1998. All rights reserved.