Elephant with big tasks

Can An Elephant Swim?

If you love to watch animals on television, you may have seen elephants playing with water in the wild. Even if you visit a safari park, you can often find elephants excitedly playing with water. From that, one can easily assume that elephants love water. But it does not answer the question, whether elephants can swim or not.

Elephants are excellent swimmers. Not only that, they can submerge themselves fully into the water. They use their powerful feet like paddles and utilize their long trunk to breathe. The strong leg muscles of the elephant help them to move against the friction of water.

Being the biggest mammal walking on the earth, elephants cannot jump like other mammals. However, they can swim without any trouble. Their massive body surprisingly gives them the buoyancy they need to float effortlessly in the water. While swimming, the trunk of the elephant offers the most considerable advantage. Most of the elephants use their trunk just like a snorkel. This unique breathing device helps them to breathe while swimming. It also enables the elephants to swim for longer hours. 

This fact may explain why elephants are so good at swimming: The elephants evolved from a common ancestor, an aquatic mammal, the Manatees. Manatees look like walruses or chunky porpoises. Also known as the sea cows.

An elephant swimming in the river
Elephants are strong swimmers.

Elephants are strong swimmers because:


Elephants are one of the most intelligent mammals in the world. They use their trunk as a snorkelling tube while swimming. That is what gives them a unique advantage as the elephants can breathe while swimming. They can keep on swimming for hours and hours. Experts have pointed out that an elephant can swim without touching the ground for nearly six hours. An elephant can cover a distance of about 30 km while swimming at a speed of 2.1 km per hour.


Along with their trunks, elephants also use their feet as strong paddles while swimming. Other than that, the small strong body muscle of the elephants enables them to drag themselves against the heavy current of the water. However, the massive body of the elephants could have created obstacles if these animals were not extremely smart. They use their bodies extremely smartly while swimming in various situations.

Long-distance Swimmers

Elephants may be heavy set, but their bodies do not become obstacles in the water. While we are talking about the swimming abilities of the elephants, we should not forget that these animals can walk about 80 miles in a day in search of food and water. That means their legs are powerful and muscular. That is what helps them swim for hours against the strong current of water.

Another factor that makes the long-distance elephant excellent swimmers is that they do not get tired that easily. But if they do get tired while swimming in the water, they rest for some time. Their massive bodies give these animals a unique buoyancy that does not let them drown like dead weights. 

African elephants can swim more than 48 kilometres across the water. They can also swim for six hours continuously. 

Today, elephants living in Sri Lanka are the progeny of the animals that swam from southern India across the sea. 

The only constraint against these long-distance swimmers is the need for food and water during the journey.

Why Do The Elephants Swim?

One of the biggest questions that may pop up in your mind while thinking about the swimming abilities of elephants is, why do they need to swim in the first place. Some people may believe that elephants swim to get better food and water. But that is not always the case. Sometimes elephants jump into the water to reduce their body temperature.

Elephants are native animals to Asian forests and African savannas, where the temperature runs very high. Water plays a vital role in these animals’ lives. Without access to water during the summer, these animals can die easily. Of course, they do not have much choice but jump into the water to cool down their body temperature during extreme heat.

Migration is yet another reason why elephants tend to swim. They often swim long distances to move from one place to another in search of food. 

If they find any river lakes or other water bodies blocking their journey, they tend to swim across them without changing their path.

Swimming Abilities And Evolution

Ancestors of modern-day elephants were semi-aquatic. These animals are thought to be smaller than the Hippopotamus of today, but they lead a pretty similar life. Dugong and manatee are also long-distance cousins of the elephants, and both of these animals are aquatic. Having these types of marine animals as ancestors has given the elephants this unique swimming ability, making them one of the best mammals swimmers in the world.

Baby Elephants

A mother elephant and a baby elephant swimming together
Mothers stay close to new baby swimmers.

That does not mean baby elephants can swim immediately after their birth. Even though swimming is their nature, elephants require some time to learn it. Before the babies can swim very well, their mothers stay by their side in the water and let them play first.

The baby elephants do not also actually know how they should use their trunks for drinking water. That’s why you can see many baby elephants bend their heads while drinking water. Slowly as they grow up, they learn how to use their trunks and manage themselves underwater.

Staying Submerged Underwater

Another impressive thing that elephants can do is they can stay submerged in water for a long time. While swimming underwater, they only keep their trunk above the water surface, just like the binoculars of a submarine. It helps them to get a constant supply of fresh oxygen from the environment.

Can Elephants Drown?

It’s scarce for a healthy elephant to drown. Even though elephants are long-distance swimmers, the question about drowning gets raised pretty often. As we have mentioned earlier, elephants do not get tired that quickly while swimming underwater. But when they do get tired, they stop swimming altogether and float in the water to take a rest. The broad surface area of their body gives them the buoyancy required to stay afloat. That means it is not easy for an elephant to drown.

Can Elephants swim in the ocean?

Of course, elephants can swim in the open sea. However, most of the time, elephants take this step when they are in extreme emergency. These intelligent animals know that there are dangerous predators, like sharks, that live in the seawater. So they try to avoid going into the open sea as much as possible.

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