How Do Sea Animals Drink Water?

Wandering Albatross - How Do Sea Animals Drink Water?
Wandering Albatross

Yesterday we discussed how fish drink water. In the ocean, the problem isn’t water but salt. Ocean fish are designed with specialized gills that support the kidneys in getting rid of salt accumulations that would otherwise pickle the fish. Obviously, not all animals that live in the ocean have gills. How do sea animals drink water?

Albatrosses and petrels are birds that can spend a year or more in the open ocean, but they need to drink water. Whales and seals also do not have land-based water supplies, and yet, like all mammals, they need water to survive. So how do sea animals drink water when ocean water is salty? God’s design of living creatures always includes unusual equipment to enable them to deal with their environment.

In the case of sea birds, they have a set of salt glands in their heads that connect to the bird’s nostrils. The birds drink seawater, but the glands are so efficient that within three hours, all of the salt is removed through the nostrils.

Whales and other aquatic mammals produce urine that has extremely concentrated salt content. By allowing high salt concentrations in the urine to diffuse into the ocean, the salt never reaches toxic levels inside the animal. An interesting sidelight to this is that the milk of these sea mammals is very low in water content. In that way, they conserve water. Milk from seals has only half the water content of lean hamburger.

Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before. These marvelous designs are not the product of mindless chance. They show an Intelligence who created with purpose and wisdom. When we realize that ocean water has high salt content, we question, “how do sea animals drink water?” God already took care of that.

In Job 38-40, God challenged Job to advance his understanding of God’s power and wisdom by considering the natural things of creation. When Job questioned God’s wisdom and purpose in his personal struggles, he did not recognize the wisdom shown in creation’s design. We too need to look at what God has done and “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:18-20).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine, June/July 1995, pages 30-34.

How a Fish Drinks Water

How a Fish Drinks Water
Salmon in Freshwater

Have you ever wondered how a fish drinks water? Your first reaction is probably something like, “It opens its mouth.” Like most things in life, it isn’t that simple.

All living things necessarily have some saltwater content in their bodies to keep chemical balance allowing life to exist. The fluids inside an ocean-dwelling fish are only about a third as salty as the ocean itself. The water inside the fish’s body tends to leave by osmotic pressure, which is the tendency of fluids to move through membranes toward higher concentrations. To avoid this loss of water, the fish does simply open its mouth and drink seawater. But that brings large amounts of salt into the fish’s body. The salt concentration would be more than the fish’s kidneys could handle. To aid the kidneys, the gills of ocean fish are designed to expel salt, so the fish isn’t pickled by it.

In freshwater fish, the osmotic pressure is reversed, so the fluids inside the fish are saltier than the water outside. The skin of a freshwater fish is designed so that water seeps in through its skin and gills. Therefore, the fish doesn’t have to drink at all. When a salmon leaves the ocean and enters a freshwater stream, it merely stops drinking. Like freshwater fish, it depends on its skin to bring in its water needs.

Now that you know how a fish drinks water, the next question would be about other creatures that spend their time in the sea. Birds like albatrosses and petrels can spend more than a year at sea, and whales and seals live in the ocean 24/7/365. How can they avoid being poisoned by the salt? We’ll discuss that tomorrow.

God’s design of life includes fitting living things with specialized equipment to survive in every environment. Fish are remarkable creatures specially equipped for the waterworld in which they live.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine June/July 1995, pages 30-34.

Deserts, Oceans, and Life

Deserts, Oceans, and LifeHave you ever been in a desert for an extended time? Have you ever taken the sand of a desert and looked at it under a microscope? Have you visited the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea? Do you feel that deserts are a wasteland? Science has come to understand something about deserts, oceans, and life that shows wisdom and planning that is beyond our wildest dreams.

We now know that deserts, in general, are dried up lakes. The vast Death Valley desert in the United States (pictured) was a lake at one time. So was the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is now called “the driest place on Earth.” The African Sahara was once the largest lake on Earth called the Mega Chad. Fossil hunting in these deserts reveals the remains of fish and plankton called diatomite. Diatomite is the skeletal remains of microscopic forms of life called diatoms. The skeletons are composed of silicon dioxide, which is a very durable substance and is highly porous and lightweight. These factors make it ideal for the wind to carry. Diatomite also contains phosphorous, which is essential for life to exist. Every living cell needs water and phosphorous, which is the second most abundant mineral in our bodies.

To have rain on the Earth requires water vapor, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei on which the water can condense. When bodies of water become deserts, the dust contains phosphorus. Wind currents of our planet take the dust from deserts which once were lakes and carry it vast distances. Dust particles become the nuclei for condensation of raindrops that carry water and nutrients to the ground. The deserts of the Sahara maintain life in the Amazon basin. Lightning in the storms produces nitrogen to add to the nutrients. This pattern is repeated in every life-filled system on Earth. The Great Plains of the United States are sustained by the dust and minerals of the Mojave Desert, an old inland sea.

The Bible refers to all of this in passages like Isaiah 50:2 and Job 38:37-38. It is not the purpose of these passages to reveal the complex system that produces the water and nutrients for life to exist. However, the references to the dust and the drying of the sea make it clear that the ultimate Author of the scriptures knew the processes used to supply a planet uniquely designed to harbor life. Deserts, oceans, and life speak to the design built into the Earth. They also show us that God has given us what we need for life and the scriptures to provide a reliable guide for living.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ocean Treasure House

Ocean Treasure HouseOceans are essential for life on Earth. As we learn more about the oceans, we realize more and more how important the ocean treasure house is to our survival.

Fish, shrimp, and lobsters are some of the blessings that come from the oceans. Those vast bodies of water contain a great wealth of biomass that can address human food needs. The very fact that these forms of life lay millions of eggs that can provide massive amounts of food quickly is a testimony to the vast ocean treasure house. As humans conserve and farm these resources, we see the potential for food production with minimal environmental impact.

But food is only one of the blessings that come from the oceans. The oceans of the world provide water for the land. Evaporation lifts massive amounts of water from the oceans. The moisture condenses and falls on the continents providing the vital water needed by all land forms of life.

The oceans also moderate temperatures on the land. When Earth is closest to the Sun, its tilt exposes the Southern Hemisphere to the direct radiation of the Sun. Since oceans mostly cover the Southern Hemisphere, the water reflects much of the radiation, and the rest is absorbed and stored in the water. The water carries this heat toward the polar areas of the planet, moderating temperatures and allowing life to exist in abundance at the higher latitudes.

When the Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, exposing the land to the Sun’s radiation. The land surface absorbs more heat radiation and reflects less of it. The waters in the Southern Hemisphere moderate the climate by using their stored energy to supplement the heat from the Sun.

In addition to their thermodynamic uses, the oceans also control the gases that are critical for life on Earth. Photosynthetic processes taking place in the oceans produce most of our oxygen. The oceans are a significant carbon sink, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that would be in our atmosphere if the oceans did not exist. This not only restricts the adverse greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide but also recycles carbon in ways that benefit the entire planetary ecosystem.

Another ocean treasure house is the minerals they hold. The salt in the ocean is not just sodium chloride (regular table salt). The oceans contain a wide variety of elements that are critical to humans. They include iodine, magnesium, copper, and copious trace elements of biological importance. People who live far from the oceans benefit from these mineral resources because ancient oceans have deposited those minerals on land. Oceans gather and store the elements that humans need. While we have mined these ocean-deposited resources on land, we are now learning to take them directly from the ocean.

As science looks for life elsewhere in the cosmos, it is not likely that we will find it unless we find a planetary environment with oceans comparable to those on Earth. The ocean treasure house is a beautiful feature unique to planet Earth in our solar system. As science observes other stars and other systems, it becomes increasingly clear that planets like ours are exceedingly rare at best. God has provided the ocean treasure house that speaks eloquently of the Creator’s wisdom and power.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Empty the Ocean

Empty the Ocean with a Pail
In the June 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation James Peterson gave a wonderful quote of St. Augustine. It seems he saw a little girl marching industriously into the surf with a pail. She then walked back up the beach and poured the water into a little dip in the sand. He asked her what she was doing, and she lifted the pail and said: “Today I am going to empty the ocean with my pail.”

Peterson goes on to say:

“I can picture that the girl felt the waves tugging at her feet. She knew the taste of salt water on her tongue. She could hear the roar of the surf. She could see the blue water stretching to the horizon. She knew the ocean with every sense she had, and as completely as she could. But she did not even begin to conceive that the water stretched all the way to the other coasts. She had no inkling that in the water before her there were mountain ranges and canyons, whales and walruses, icebergs and tropical islands. There is a parallel here with how we know God. All who God is—beyond any one way of knowing, and even with all our ways of knowing together—ultimately, is beyond our current best human comprehension, but we can truly know God with all the ability that we have, including from our ability to experience nature. If one knows God by God’s self-revelation, one can then recognize God’s presence in the serene moonrise rippling across a lake, and in the fierce, and as it turns out, life-giving, forest fire.”

“Living in this material world is a generous and complicated gift that can enrich our understanding and experience of God. What we discover and experience of our material world through the sciences, can sometimes help us to recognize more of its Creator.”

The truth is that we can never fully know God any more than the little girl could empty the ocean with her little bucket. However, the more we learn about God through His Word and His works, the more we will be in awe of Him.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
You can read James C. Peterson’s full editorial HERE.

Continental Drift and Recycling

Continental Drift
In 1910 an Arctic explorer by the name of Alfred Wegener coined the term continental drift. Wegener saw the same fossils in South America that he had seen in western Africa, and he proposed that the two continents had been connected at one time. Wegener’s proposal was ridiculed by the scientists of that day who saw the Earth’s crust as too solid to allow any model of that kind to work.

Over the years studies of earthquake epicenters have shown that there is movement of huge slabs of rock called tectonic plates. The rock material bends more and more steeply until the slabs eventually melt into the mantle–the molten interior of the earth. These slabs and everything on them do in fact move.

In 1952 an ocean cartographer by the name of Marie Tharp began making profiles of the Atlantic Ocean floor going from west to east. Her profiles showed a ridge down the center of the Atlantic with younger material in the center and older material on both sides. She proposed that molten material was coming up from the mantle and pushing the two slabs of ocean floor material away from each other. Where the slabs hit the edges of the continent, the material is deflected downward making trenches in the floor of the ocean.

All of these discoveries flew in the face of the accepted geological theory at the time, and Tharp was ridiculed. In time scientists came to understand that the Earth is made up of plates sliding along the surface and sliding down into the mantle when a continent is reached.

There is a message in all of this that what is considered to be scientifically impossible, sometimes turns out to be true. At the same time, a pet theory can ultimately be proven incorrect. One of the beauties of science is that eventually it cleans up its own mistakes.

Another message is that sometimes God addresses a problem long before humans know there is a problem. This whole process is one of the greatest recycling systems of all time. As nutrients and minerals get eroded off the continents, they are deposited on the ocean floor. The movement of the ocean floor ultimately returns this material to the mantle to be recycled back to the Earth’s surface.

No elements are lost from the Earth’s reservoir by this system, and it assures us that there is no waste in the resources of the planet as a whole. Jeremiah 10:12 speaks of God preserving the Earth by His wisdom, and continental drift is one of tools by which He does that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The “Aliens” Among Us

Octopus
Octopus

Imagine a creature that has no backbone, no ribs, in fact, no skeletal structure at all. It can weigh up to 200 pounds (90 kg), and its arms can be almost seven feet (2 m) long. It has three hearts, and the color of its blood is blue. Its limbs are covered with hundreds of tongues which have taste receptors, and its body is embedded with cells that sense light. Its eight arms are covered with suckers that can be moved independently and have tongues and taste receptors embedded in them. This “alien” creature is not as alien as you might think. It’s the octopus.

The octopus is the dominant member of a class of marine animals called cephalopods which number some 750 known living species. Octopuses have about 300 species, and they are far and away the most intelligent of the cephalopods. Trying to keep an octopus in an aquarium is almost impossible because they always find ways to escape. Since they have no skeletal structure, they can squeeze through the smallest crack. They can unscrew a jar lid, fit into a drain pipe, and camouflage their activity by releasing a cloud of ink. In an article on “Animal Intelligence” in the “News and Notes” section of our November/December 2016 printed publication, we told the story of “Inky” the octopus. Inky squeezed through a narrow gap at the top of his tank at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. After flopping to the floor, Inky scooted across the room to the opening of a drain pipe. He got into the pipe and dropped 164 feet (50 m) to where the pipe entered the sea, and there he escaped.

Octopuses are designed to control various animal populations in the coral reefs and other areas of the oceans. They are beautiful creatures that are part of God’s design for an ocean environment that humans are only beginning to understand.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

God’s Swiss Army Tree

Mangroves
Mangroves

Most of us know what a Swiss Army Knife is. The one I had as a kid had a knife, can opener, bottle opener, nail file, corkscrew, screwdriver, and scissors all built into one six-inch container. You pulled out of the container whatever you wanted to use. While it didn’t always work well, it did a large number of things.

The mangrove is a tree which God has created to do a large number of different things. The design of the tree is ingenious. The roots of the plant filter out 90% of the salt from seawater so the plant can grow along any ocean shoreline. The leaves of the plant are waxy and thick so that the water inside the plant is stored efficiently. The roots make the plant look like it is on stilts, but their design gives stability even in the worst of storms. Those same roots sequester carbon four times more effectively than tropical rain forests.

In addition to all of those things, the mangrove is home to a wide range of living organisms. The root system is a protective breeding ground for many different species of fish as well as crustaceans, mollusks, barnacles, and turtles. Many varieties of sea-birds such as egrets and warblers nest in mangroves. There are about 60 species of mangroves in the world, and they are all beneficial. Not only do they protect the shorelines from beach erosion and shelter fisheries, but the wood is used in a variety of ways.

We take for granted all that God has done to allow us to live on this planet. Having a plant as versatile and useful as the mangrove is a great testimony to God and his wisdom in designing things that allow us to live here. We need to treasure and take care of what God has given us. Remember that one of the first jobs God gave humans to do was to “take care of the Garden, dress it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). That responsibility is still one we should do responsibly. Data from World Wildlife Magazine, January 2017, page 5-6.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Frillfin Goby–A Fish with a Built-in GPS

Frillfin goby

One of the most studied fish in the ocean is a three-inch long shore fish called the frillfin goby (Bathygobius soporator). This little fish has even gotten attention from the New York Times which ran an article about studies by Dr. Jonathan Balcombe on this fish and how it survives (May 15, 2016).

This fish lives in the intertidal zones in the Atlantic Ocean. When the tide goes out, the fish lives in small tidal pools which are isolated and free of the large predatory fish which pose a threat when the tide is in. The problem is that these small pools can be hunting grounds for shorebirds and crabs so sometimes the fish needs to change pools. The goby does this by jumping out of its pool and landing in a nearby pool that offers better protection. The obvious problem with making this jump is knowing where the next pool is to land in it and not on bare rock. In 1971 a study was done at the American Museum of Natural History to see how the frillfin goby learns where to jump and how far to jump to land in the pool. Their conclusion was that the goby swims over the area at high tide and makes a mental map of the topography of the sea-floor. It can use this mental map 40 days later to escape from a predator. Essentially they have a mental GPS that allows them to make what would otherwise be a very dangerous escape.

This is not a chance driven device. Observers did not see any case where the goby missed its pool. The accuracy of the jumping is far beyond chance. This instinctive drive and the biological features that sustain it are an evidence of an intelligence providing for life in every nook and cranny of the world around us. For more information see the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 188 (1): 378-392.
–John N. Clayton © 2017