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Do Hippos Swim?

Hippos hang out in the water most of the time, but are they good swimmers?

A close-up of a hippo's face

Photo: Art G. (flickr)

Hippos may not swim, but they do get around in the water pretty well.

After elephants, Nile hippos are the largest land animals, weighing up to eight or nine thousand pounds. Unlike elephants, however, hippos spend their days in the water, which might make it seem silly to ask: Can hippos swim?

Given their size, one might answer “no” because hippos seem too heavy to swim. But that’s wrong. A hippo’s fat makes it buoyant enough to float very well. On the other hand, if you said “no” you are quite right. Hippos do not really swim. Their method of travel is very simple: they walk underwater.

Like many people, hippos enjoy resting in cool water and can let themselves float or sink by controlling their breathing and body position. Once sunk, hippos don’t swim back up to the surface: they walk along the bottom till they reach shallow water. Unlike people, hippos can hold their breath for minutes at a time.

Far from the lumbering giants they seem to be, hippos can trot, jog and run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour, with spurts as fast as 30 miles per hour. Although poachers hunt hippos and sell their teeth as an alternative to elephant ivory, you still might see one if you’re lucky enough to travel to sub-Saharan Africa. Just don’t get too close: they are more agile than they appear.

Read More:

  • Hippo’s ‘Magic Sweat’ Explained (BBC)
  • Pet Hippo Kills Its Owner (ABC News)
  • Erik

    very wrong- i just saw a viral video that has a hippo chasing a speedboat in water. This hippo was NOT touching the river floor and was staying with the speedboat. It was going at least 40 mph.

  • WaltHayes

    The boat was not going anywhere near 40. And it is not known how deep the water was, though likely no more than 10-12 feet max since hippos have to propel themselves by pushing their legs against underwater objects – hence ‘running’ underwater.

  • afc

    Is it possible the video is fake anyway?

  • Vee

    That is what i was wondering, was it special effects?

  • mike

    . No special effects, water maybe 7ft deep, and by the looks of it he’s about 6k or 7k and can run across the bottom like a tank!!! , make no mistake this stuff is as real as it gets in the wild.

  • Claire Johnson III

    no stupid. just because you can’t wrap your head around it doesn’t make it fake. hippos bound off the bottom of th body of water floor….that was a shallow lake….and that boat wasn’t that far out from shore.

  • Brownman

    Well, given your grammatical skills I would say you’re the one that is stupid. It’s a stretch to assume just because someone is asking a question to try and get some FACTS is the same as “not wrapping your mind around” something.

    The authenticity of the video is a fair question. Don’t just assume what you see on the Internet is truth. What facts or credentials to you have to substantiate (that means support if it’s too big a word for you) that a hippo could do what was in the video?

  • Adrian Stock

    Very well said brownman. calling you out on an honest and legitimate opinion on that vid was a total dick move and he can go fuck himself. Il tell him myself to bring it. I Also find it hard to believe that a hippopotamus is capable of doing what was done in that video.

  • Shannon Gratitude Guy Jones

    Here is a link to what I believe is the video in question. in my opinion it’s difficult to discern both the depth of the river, and the speed of the watercraft. However, it is impressive how quickly the hippo appears to gain ground, so to speak, on the watercraft.

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