Math has proven what no one has actually seen — namely that giraffes can swim, according to a new report in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Donald Henderson, the curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrell Museum north of Calgary, and Darren Naish, of the University of Portsmouth in England, published a study in which they showed a swimming giraffe to be possible, at least in theory.
The world's tallest mammal will not be very good in the water, however, the two scientists said in the latest edition of the esoteric academic journal.
"While it is not impossible for giraffes to swim, we speculate that they would perform poorly compared to other mammals and are hence likely to avoid swimming if possible," Henderson and Naish said in an article abstract.
That conclusion differs from the common wisdom within the scientific community, namely that the giraffe was too awkwardly designed to be able to remain buoyant in water and would drown.
"If you picture the giraffe immersed in water, with its high center of gravity, it's hard to imagine how it could keep its balance. The giraffe's gestalt is definitely not adapted to life in water," wrote Craig Holdrege in 2004 for the Ghent, N.Y.-based Nature Institute, a non-profit institute that examines science and technology.
Henderson and Naish, however, used a mathematical model in which they hypothesized the floating and rotation characteristics of a giraffe and estimated that the hoofed animal, with a mass approximately 13 per cent denser than a horse, could float in 2.8 metres of water.
"Giraffes are often stated to be unable to swim, and while few observations supporting this have ever been offered, we sought to test the hypothesis that giraffes exhibited a body shape or density unsuited for locomotion in water," the Canadian and British scientists said in their article.
The giraffe, however, does have unstable dynamics, Henderson and Naish conceded, which would result in the animal's front legs pulling its entire body downwards.
As a result, the giraffe's neck would become horizontal in water and force the animal to hold its head above the surface at a strange angle, the scientists said.
Still, Henderson and Naish said, it is possible, say in the case of a forest fire, for a giraffe to swim across a large body of water to safety.