13 Animals with Flippers

Photo: vkilikov / Shutterstock

Flippers are flat limbs we can find with many aquatic animals, while they’re still not fish. They’re fully webbed, and some animals have two of them, while other species have up to four flippers.

In this article, we’ll be learning about all animals that have flippers:

  • Sea Turtles
  • Dolphins
  • Whales
  • Earless Seals
  • Sea Lions
  • Dall’s Porpoises
  • Walruses
  • Manatees
  • Dugongs
  • Penguins
  • Harbor Porpoises
  • Vaquitas
  • Finless Porpoises

1. Sea Turtles

Photo: Scott Stanton / Shutterstock

Scientific name (superfamily): Chelonioidea

There are currently seven species of sea turtle: flatback, green, leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, and the olive ridley sea turtle. Sea turtles are the only reptiles with flippers after many giant reptiles from the age of the dinosaurs have gone extinct.

Sea turtles don’t use their flippers just for swimming, but also for digging large nests (up to 20 inches deep) to lay their eggs in.

Unfortunately, turtle flippers were a very sought-after good for a very long time. Sea turtle flipper trade is still active in some places around the world.

2. Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphin surfacing from water
Photo: Caroline Legg / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientific name (infraorder): Cetacea

The world’s most famous dolphin wasn’t called Flipper for no reason! These animals modified their forelimbs into flippers about 35 million years ago, enabling them with incredible swimming acrobatics.

Dolphin flippers allow them to reach incredible speeds, as the orca can travel at 34.5 MPH, which is incredible for swimming speeds. Their flippers are used to steer, while they use their tail to propel themselves through the water.

Interestingly, dolphins are one of the few animals engaging in non-reproductive sexual behavior, and they often use their flippers for stimulation.

3. Whales

Photo: Thierry Eidenweii / Shutterstock

Scientific name (infraorder): Cetacea

Whales share the same order as dolphins, but their groups are informally separated. A similarity between them, however, lies in their flippers.

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Just like dolphins, they use their flippers for steering and their tail for propelling themselves through the water. Whales have the biggest flippers in the world, and because of the sheer size of their tail, they can achieve speeds of up to 37 MPH.

Before they evolved, whales had two pairs of flippers, while whales nowadays only have a single pair of flippers.

4. Earless Seals

Photo: Edwin Godinho / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Phocidae

Also called true seals, earless seals are the animals you think of when you hear the word ‘seal’. 

These animals are known for their economic movement – they swim by wiggling their body (similar to how snakes move on land), and they use the hind flippers (on their tail) to push forward.

Seals use their fore flippers to steer, but also as improvised legs when they’re on land. Unfortunately, they can’t bend their hind flippers downward, so they move with more grace underwater.

These animals with two pairs of flippers have completely adapted to aquatic life.

5. Sea Lions

Photo: Greens and Blues / Shutterstock

Scientific name (subfamily): Otariinae

Sea lions are known to have the longest flippers (relative to their own size), and unlike seals, they can actually walk on all four limbs.

They also have two pairs of flippers, using their hind limbs to power through the water, and their front limbs to steer.

Their forelimbs are much longer than their hindlimbs, and they’re much more flexible than dolphins and whales.

The Californian sea lion is slightly different from other animals with flippers, as they use both their forelimbs and their hindlimbs to propel themselves through the water.

6. Dall’s Porpoises

Photo: David Hoffman / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Phocoenoides dalli

Porpoises are very similar to dolphins, but they’re not the same group of animals.

Dall’s porpoise is often confused for the killer whale because of their black and white coloring, but they’re much smaller and lighter. However, these sea animals with flippers are the largest among their group, growing up to 7.5 feet.

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They’re very active underwater, often swimming at the surface, approaching boats, and following whales to ride on their waves. They have a single pair of flippers positioned right behind the head, pointing slightly downwards.

7. Walruses

Photo: Vladimir Turkenich / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus

Walruses are the largest animals with flippers (barring whales and orcas), as they can weigh as much as 4400 pounds!

Unlike most animals with flippers, they mostly propel themselves forward with full-body movements, using their flippers to steer and walk on the shore.

They’ll sometimes use their flippers to forage prey out of the murky sea bottom. Walruses are deceptively quick for an animal their size, and they have characteristics of both sea lions and seals.

Flippers were a sought-after body part of the walrus, as they were fermented and stored as a delicacy. This practice, however, is now history.

8. Manatees

Photo: Thierry Eidenweii / Shutterstock

Scientific name (genus): Trichechus

Even though they’re not as large as walruses, manatees are another species of giant aquatic mammals. They’re also called sea cows, and they use their flippers for both walking and swimming.

They’ll scoop vegetation towards their mouth with their flippers once they find it on the bottom of the seabed.

However, their flippers aren’t as useful when swimming, as they have particularly small flippers for an animal of their size and they can’t reach great speeds. Their flippers are more similar to paddles, which takes a toll on speed and agility.

9. Dugongs

Photo: vkilikov / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Dugong dugon

Dugongs are related to manatees, and their flippers are particularly dolphin-like. They move their tail up and down to push forwards, while their front flippers are only used to steer and slow down.

Similar to manatees, dugongs are animals with short flippers, so they lack the agility other animals with flippers have. 

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However, they use their flippers often as part of parental care. Calves will often touch their mothers for support, hide under their mothers’ flippers, and suck on them as a child would suck on a pacifier

10. Penguins

Photo: Nickolya / Shutterstock

Scientific name (family): Spheniscidae 

Penguins aren’t the only flightless birds, but they’re the only birds with flippers, making them more similar to fish than to birds. They’ve completely adapted to aquatic life, and their underwater movements are very similar to bird movements in the air.

They’re a very agile group of animals, but their flippers are completely useless for flying. Unlike most other animals on this list, they developed their flippers from wings, not from legs and feet.

11. Harbor Porpoises

Photo: ErnstS / Shutterstock

Scientific name: Phocoena phocoena

A bit smaller than Dall’s porpoises, harbor porpoises are ocean animals with flippers, stocky bodies, and round heads. They can achieve about 9 MPH at best, but they’re impressively agile for such a stocky animal.

We can most often find them in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, the Scandinavian shoreline, and the Baltics. Their hunting is completely forbidden, but they are sometimes found entangled in fishing gear.

12. Vaquitas

Photo: Paula Olson for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Scientific name: Phocoena sinus

This is a very rare animal with flippers, found exclusively in the upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), only found within 16 miles of the shoreline.

These animals are critically endangered, and it is believed they’ll soon be extinct as there are now less than 10 of them.

They have a single pair of flippers, and with sexual dimorphism common with this species, females often have larger and wider flippers. They use their flippers to steer underwater, as they propel themselves with their tail.

13. Finless Porpoises

Photo: Takayuki Ohama / Shutterstock

Scientific name (genus): Neophocaena 

There are three species of porpoises in this genus, and they’re all characterized by having no top fin.

Aside from the Yangtze finless porpoise, which has adapted to freshwater life, they mostly live in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The Yangtze finless porpoise is one of the very few freshwater animals with flippers. They have large flippers in comparison to their own size (flippers are about 20% as long), with pointed ends, and they use them to move underwater.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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