Because of their history of traveling through the trees, researchers say that apes do not have the instinct to swim in the water. But a series of new videos show that what they lack in instinct, the primates more than make up for in learned ability.
Researchers in South Africa and Switzerland documented the swimming efforts of a chimpanzee named Cooper, who not only swims but dives into the deep end of a swimming pool and swims 6.6 feet to the bottom.
“We were extremely surprised when the chimp Cooper dived repeatedly into a swimming pool in Missouri and seemed to feel very comfortable," said School of Anatomical Sciences at Wits University researcher Renato Bender.
“This issue is becoming more and more the focus of research. There is still much to explore,” Bender said.
Even more interesting, the researchers discovered that Cooper employs a breaststroke style, as opposed to the dog paddle technique used by other mammals who are not accustomed to maneuvering in the water.
A second video was filmed at a private zoo in South Carolina, where an orangutan named Suryia can be seen using its long arms and legs to paddle across a pool.
Nicole Bender, a researcher with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern, said that like humans, the apes in the videos actually learned to use the breaststroke, moving beyond their evolutionary instinct to simply dog paddle.
“We did find other well-documented cases of swimming and diving apes, but Cooper and Suryia are the only ones we were able to film,” she said. “We still do not know when the ancestors of humans began to swim and dive regularly.”
A largely unaccepted theory known as the aquatic ape hypothesis, posits that early prehumans actually evolved from an existence where they mixed their time spent in and out of water.