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Tailfin Walking

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The trope where a whale, dolphin, porpoise, manatee, walrus, seal, fish, or shark walks on its tail-fin (justified for the seal and walrus as those are actually its feet). This trope is especially common in cartoons, since filming this is difficult with a real fish. In reality, tail-fins are rather floppy, and won't support the animal's weight, however, it looks more natural than walking on the pectoral fins (which would essentially be 'crawling'), or on the pelvic fins (which anatomically correspond to a human's legs).

If the character is a Funny Animal, some writers will just outright turn their tail-fins into straight-up legs. This is most commonly seen in pinnipeds, as unlike most other animals of this example, the rear flippers seen in their skeletons actually resemble that of legs not unlike most other tetrapods (they are indeed legs, not a tail like with other marine mammals as with manatees and cetaceans).

In some settings where they exist, mermaids can also be seen moving about like this, though another common variant would be to have them 'standing' with their tails in a "U-shape", with the fins held off the ground.

A Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Marine Biology. This is a sister trope to Feather Fingers. May also apply to Fish People, Land Sharks, and Terrestrial Sea Life in animation.


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  • Charlie the Tuna from the StarKist commercials.
  • Averted with the golden Thailand-styled mermen in this bizarre Toyota commercial where they seem to jump around on their "knees" (or more accurately, the middle part of their tails) in a very awkward and unrealistic way.
  • The mermaid in this ad for an eco-friendly straw seems to just float a few inches off the ground with her tail fin trailing.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Mermaids in A Centaur's Life are shown to do this in shallow water, sort of, with several feet of tail extending behind them and their bodies projecting upright out of the water like they're standing on two legs, in total defiance of gravity.
  • Lu Over the Wall: Lu the mermaid is shown at many points to be able to stand upright on her tail, but can't exactly walk. Instead she hops around on it. May be justified as a mermaid's tail in this movie is just human legs fused together.
  • Averted with Wakasa the merman in Merman In My Tub, who is mostly confined to a bathtub in the series, though there is one episode where he leaves the tub to look for his human friend Tatsumi, and he doesn't walk but just drags himself along the floor in a sitting position.
    • Played straight with Takasu the octopus-man, who walks on his tentacles, and Mikuni the jellyfish-man who somehow can stand up despite his lower half being a shapeless column of clear liquid.
    • As for Maki the snail-man, it isn't clear how he moves, as he has a human's upper half emerging from a snail shell but no 'foot', and being palm-sized, is often carried by the other characters.
  • Downplayed in Monster Musume: Meroune can stand upright on her tail while on land, but she can't really walk on it, instead using a wheelchair to get around when out of the water.
  • This is an explicit rule of mermaids in One Piece. Around age thirty their tail fin splits in two enabling walking on land (among other things). They're also capable of moving around on their tailfins, however.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted with Fish Police. While the characters are in the upright, fins-at-bottom position of most humanoid fish characters, they seem to float more than walk.
  • The Pun-fisher, the version of The Punisher in the Spider-Ham universe, walks around on his tailfins.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): One of Wonder Woman's suitors in the Silver Age comics was Manno the Merman, who is commonly depicted standing up on his fins when on land. However, he doesn't walk, he hops.
  • Subverted, played with and outright trashed by Viz with the Pathetic Sharks, who mostly do the "standing on their tail fins" bit, and Billy The Fish, who hovers with his tail curved beneath him

    Film — Animated 
  • Fish from Chicken Little, being a literal Fish out of Water, walks around on land on his tail fin.
  • Averted in Ice Age: Continental Drift. Flynn, the seal, doesn't walk, he moves by slithering and flopping along much like real seals do on land (though he does so upright).
  • Averted with the fish and mermaids in The Little Mermaid, except during the "Under the Sea" song, where several fish walk (or more specifically, dance) on their tail fins underwater.
    • House of Mouse normally averts this with Ariel, who either shows up as a human or a mermaid, but plays it straight with her father King Triton.
    • Some Disney Princess artwork showing the princesses in a group will (for some reason) show Ariel as a mermaid, and standing on her tail!
    • Melody briefly does this in the sequel as well, more specifically during "For a Moment".
    • Averted in the Capcom NES game based on the first movie, where Ariel flops on her hands and tail when on land.
  • The Humming-Fish from the animated film adaptation of The Lorax, just as with their book counterparts.
  • Averted in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: The shark that follows Morty onto the beach, through the jungle and into a volcano doesn't walk, it just lunges forward repeatedly.
  • Willie the Operatic Whale in Make Mine Music, although it was only during his daydreams.
  • The fish in Shark Tale sometimes walk on their tailfins, but they stay underwater the whole time.
    • This is averted with the shark characters, however, who sometimes sit or float upright, but always swim in a horizontal posture when moving around.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The fish character in the Disney live action Alice in Wonderland (2010) by Tim Burton.
  • Zigra from Gamera vs. Zigra is an alien Kaiju resembling a goblin shark that seems to be this trope after Gamera battles him on land. However, given the sudden cuts between the puppet Zigra with a tail and the suitmation Zigra with legs it's unclear whether this is a canon ability or just a limitation of the filmmaking.
  • The Mermaid have its titular character, Shan-shan and other members of her kind, who blends themselves in human society and can walk on their tails while hiding their legs with long clothing. Shan is notably introduced as a young girl walking in a skirt that covers up to her heels before revealing herself as a merfolk; there's also a mer-octopus character in the same film who uses his tentacles as legs.

  • Mr. Shark in The Bad Guys is seen walking this way in illustrations when not in the water. Mr. Piranha, on the other hand, simply drags himself around.
  • Mentioned in The Lorax when the Humming-Fish are sent away:
    "They'll walk on their fins and get woefully weary."
  • An Older Than Radio example appears in Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll's sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) when Tweedledum and Tweedledee recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter" to Alice. John Tenniel's illustrations depict the walrus walking like this, complete with a shoe on each tailfin.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Implied to be done by the "land shark" that showed up in early seasons of Saturday Night Live.

    Video Games 
  • Marino the Merman from Bust A Move 4 is shown standing on his tail in the "U-pose" when on land, and though he is never seen walking he does jump up and down on his tail in a level victory.
  • Averted in Chrono Cross — mermaids don't walk while on land, they hover. (You can see some "magic sparkles" around Irenes's tail when she's moving.)
  • Also averted in Kingdom Rush: Frontiers. The Greenfins, Deviltides, and Redspines don't have tails, and Bluegales inch forward caterpillar-style.
  • Also averted with Nami from League of Legends, with her "kneeling" and floating on her tail whenever she's on land.
  • The Pokémon Popplio, Brionne and Primarina don't walk on their tail fins, but they can stand up for a few seconds; this is mostly seen when Primarina uses its signature move. Later, Palafin's Hero form does stand like this on land, to affect the V-shaped body of a traditional comicbook superhero.
  • Averted with Shantae's Mermaid form in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. On land, her Mermaid form can only flop along on her hands and belly (there is even an achievement for flopping across an entire level in mermaid form!)
  • Splatoon 3:
    • Downplayed with Big Man; while he does walk with his fins, he uses his pectoral fins rather than his tailfin to do so.
    • Played straight with an unnamed member of the band "Damp Socks feat. Off the Hook", who is a fish seen standing on their tailfin in a promotional image for the band, and not seeming to have any legs.
  • In Terraria, during the rain, goldfishes start walking around on their tailfins. But only during the rain; when there's no rain, they just flop on the ground.
  • Mermaids from Wildlife Park 2 can swim in water, but can also come onto land and slither around upright.
  • The undines of Yggdra Union are shown in the "U-pose" when standing, and to move just lurch forward on their 'knees'.

    Web Original 
  • The tribbets from Serina are a variant, being mudskipper-like fish that use their pectoral fins and tail as three walking limbs. Their descendants, the hoppers, turn their tail into a true jointed leg with the foot derived from their tail fin, eventually the hoppers give rise to the tribbetheres, the Fantastic Fauna Counterpart to mammals that have three legs, with the single hind leg looking nearly indistinguishable from a mammal's leg.
  • The mermen Dace, Kiyi and Varden from Three Little Fish and a Bird fully avert this. They spend most of their time on land, being air-breathing mammals, and get around on land via crawling.

    Western Animation 
  • Narwhal on Almost Naked Animals.
  • Played with with Darwin the goldfish from The Amazing World of Gumball; Darwin's grew actual legs and feet right about where pelvic fins would be on a real fish.
  • The water-fearing mermaid in American Dragon: Jake Long was guilty of this on occasion, though most of the time she slithered like a snake instead when on land. Averted with the older mermaid who was Jake's principal, who hid her tail by using a wheelchair.
  • Animalympics has the dolphin Mark Spritz and the orca Ono Nono stand and walk on their flukes.
  • One episode of Arthur featured an Imagine Spot where Buster Baxter envisions himself as a fish-based supervillain who lives inside a space station shaped like a giant crab, and plans to take over the world by hypnotizing fish so that they do this to "eat land people."
  • In one episode of Fairly OddParents Timmy, as a merboy, takes the Atlantis king Greg (a parody of King Triton) to watch a movie on land. Strangely, both him and Timmy just seem to slide along on their tails in the "U-pose"(King Greg is somehow even shown running in terror in one scene!)
  • The fish in Fish Hooks all stand and walk this way. And yes, their tails look absolutely nothing like actual fish tails at all!
  • Jabberjaw, as seen in the page pic, is a shark that walks upright on his tail fin. One-shot character Francine Lafinn can walk on her tailfin, too. Commander Shark's army of shark-human hybrids are apparently supposed to be able to do this by design, but only Shelly and Clamhead (transformed into sharks themselves) are actually shown walking on land.
  • Kenny and the other fish characters in Kenny the Shark walk on their tailfins on land.
  • The Looney Tunes "Sport Chumpions" had a female competitive swimmer win the trophy, we pull back, revealing her to be a mermaid, and she walks away by tip-toeing on her tail fin.
  • Shark from WordWorld.
  • In the Magi-Nation episode "The Depths of Courage", the mermaid-tailed Orotheans are shown standing on their tails on land and slithering to move. This is especially noteworthy as in the next two episodes they appear they're shown perfectly able to change their tails into legs and walk normally on land.
  • Misterjaw and Catfish often did this whenever they were on land.
  • Admiral Bubbles from My Goldfish is Evil.
  • Bull Sharkowski and Phineas Porpoise from My Gym Partner's a Monkey walk on their tails, which is a little strange in the show as all the other fish and cetacean students and teachers are unable to do so.
  • Dr. Blowhole from The Penguins of Madagascar stands on his tail flukes and moves around on a scooter but he cannot walk.
  • In a couple of times in Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, Penn and his friends turn themselves into mer-people. They usually avert this trope when on land, instead hopping around, or slithering snake-like in Penn's case as his mer-form has an eel-like tail.
  • Sally the fish on Scaredy Squirrel plays this straight, although she also averts Fin Fingers.
  • Most fish characters from Sharky And George either walk on their tailfins, or swim just above the sea bottom.
  • In one of The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror episodes, the dolphins who took over the earth walked on their tail flukes when on land.
  • Pearl, the whale character from Spongebob Squarepants.
    • Rare pelvic fin variant: The fish characters in the same show.
  • Sometimes played straight and sometimes averted in Chuck Jones' adaptation of The White Seal.
  • Moosel from The Wuzzles.
  • Marina from Zig & Sharko does this whenever she's on land. (Maybe intended as a poke at this, in the episode "Fancy Footwork", she actually has a harder time standing and walking on her magically-granted legs than she normally does on her tailfin)

    Real Life 
  • This trope occurs in water in a standard training routine in shows with trained dolphins.
    • Most wild dolphins and porpoises, including killer whales, can do this too by spyhopping, giving the impression that they're standing upright while treading water. It seems that this behaviour is linked to curiosity, as dolphins and killer whales will often maintain this position while observing something that interests them.
  • Played with by sea lions, who turn their rear flippers out to the sides when they hunch their way along level ground, alternately supporting their weight on their widely-spread front flippers and paired hind ones. They can't, however, actually stand upright this way.
  • Sirenomelia, also called mermaid syndrome, occurs in human beings when the legs fail to separate in the womb. It is linked to kidney problems.
  • The tripodfish, which uses its elongated tail fin and pectoral fins to prop itself up on the seabed.
  • Amusingly, this cosplayer of Atlantica Form Sora, in 2011's London Expo, who allegedly spent an entire day hobbling around the convention in a home-made costume mermaid tail!


Video Example(s):


Betty Boop crosses a puddle

A bear helps Betty cross a puddle on her way to see The Old Man of the Mountain.

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Main / PuddleCoveringChivalry

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