Cetaceans’ Submarine Songfests

CETACEANS’  SUBMARINE  SONGFESTS: 

Norwegians and Americans Scrutinize Saltwater Serenades

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Blue Whale in Red Sea   (Novinite.com image)

HUMPBACK WHALE (The Bermudian Magazine)

 And God created great whales [tannînim], and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind; and God saw that it was good.   (Genesis 1:21)

 What is “whale-song”?  Music-like whale talk!  Whales are cetaceans, a category of whales and whale-like marine mammals, e.g., porpoises and dolphins. Our English word “cetacean” derives from the Greek noun kêtos (κητος) which appears in Matthew 12:40 (as “whale”), so “whales” are mentioned in Scripture.

Consider Genesis 1:21, quoted above.  Consider also Job 7:12, Ezekiel 32:2, and Matthew 12:40, as well as the reference in Lamentations 4:3a (“Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones:”).

For a short YouTube on humpback “songs” (by Oceania iWhales), check out https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=whale+song&view=detail&mid=080AA0FA37A93E87AB44080AA0FA37A93E87AB44&FORM=VIRE (about 3 minutes long).

For a video (by NatGeoOceans) on researching Blue Whales, review this YouTube:  https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Blue+Whale+Sounds&&view=detail&mid=FA613CEC5B6570EB96A8FA613CEC5B6570EB96A8&&FORM=VRDGAR  (video is about 6 minutes, with information on how Blue Whales are observed and recorded).

How can you describe the variety of whale-song sounds?  Screeching, shrieking, grunting, wailing, moaning, groaning, rumbling, buzzing, rattling, sqeaking, squealing, clicking, whistling, whining, rumbling, sputtering, and some low-noted sounds that might be embarrassing if emitted by humans.

Bowhead-whale.NOAA-photo

BOWHEAD WHALE (NOAA Fisheries photo)

BOWHEAD WHALES

Three Norwegian biologists (Dr. Øystein Wiig, Dr. Kit M. Kovacs, and Dr. Christian Lydersen), with an American oceanographer (Dr. Kate M. Stafford), have been studying whale-song—specifically, the songs sung by Bowhead whales from the polar waters of Svalbard, an island territory of Norway.

Almost all mammals communicate using sound, but few species produce complex songs. Two baleen whales sing complex songs that change annually, though only the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) has received much research attention. This study focuses on the other baleen whale singer, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). Members of the Spitsbergen bowhead whale population produced 184 different song types over a 3-year period, based on duty-cycled recordings from a site in Fram Strait in the northeast Atlantic. Distinct song types were recorded over short periods, lasting at most some months. …

Complex ‘song’ in mammals is rare. While many mammalian taxa produce repetitive ‘calls’, sometimes called advertisement songs, few mammals produce vocal displays akin to bird song, which is defined by multiple frequencies and amplitude-modulated elements combined into phrases and organized in long bouts. Such songs have been documented in only a few mammalian species, including some bats (Chiroptera), gibbons (Hylobatidae), mice (Scotinomys spp.), rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis), and two great whales, humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and bowhead (Balaena mysticetus) whales [BLUE WHALES sing simplistic loud-and-rhythmic “rap music”, so they are excluded from this listing of “complex song” vocalists!]. With the exception of gibbons, in which males and females duet, complex songs in mammals are thought to be produced only by males. Male mammals are thought to sing to defend territories, advertise their quality, attract mates or some combination of these functions.

The song in baleen whales has been studied extensively only in humpback whales, which sing similar songs within a season across a whole population. The structure of that song gradually evolves [sic – erroneous terminology in original] over the season in unison and transfer of song types has been documented to occur directionally from one population to another over a period of years. Humpback whale songs are composed of a hierarchy from units to sub-phrases to phrases to themes.

Less is known about the songs of bowhead whales compared with humpback whales, but bowhead whale songs generally consist of a single phrase that includes amplitude- and frequency-modulated elements repeated in bouts, with two different sounds often produced simultaneously.

A pilot study from the Fram Strait in 2008 – 2009 provided the first indication that tens of song types were produced by bowhead whales in this region within a single overwinter period. No year-round studies of song diversity exist for other bowhead whale populations although multiple song types in a single year have been documented for two other populations. …

The diversity and interannual variability in songs of bowhead whales in this 3-year study are rivalled only by a few species of songbirds.

Among other mammalian singers, mice and gibbons tend to produce highly stereotyped and repetitive songs with few elements. Variation in rock hyrax and bat songs is primarily through changes in the arrangement of units.

Humpback whales produce complex songs that are similar within a year. Although the repertoire of any one individual bowhead whale in this study cannot be determined, the catalogue of song types (184) is remarkably varied.

It is not known whether individual bowhead whales sing multiple song types in a season, but some are known to share the same song type in the same period in the Bering– Chukchi–Beaufort (BCB) population. Nor is it known if individual bowhead whales maintain the same song throughout their lifetime or if they switch within and/or between years.

One explanation for the very high song diversity in the Spitsbergen bowhead whale population could be that the animals occupying this area in modern times include immigrants from both the BCB and the eastern Canada–western Greenland bowhead populations.

Until recently, these populations have been assumed to be isolated from each other due to extensive, impenetrable sea ice cover in the High Arctic.

However, in the past few decades, extreme declines in sea ice extent and thickness may have facilitated contact between these populations. However, even if this region contains bowhead whales from multiple populations, this does not fully explain the high numbers of different song types recorded in this study or the lack of recurrence of song types from year to year.

It is plausible that the bowhead whales in the Fram Strait are simply a remnant of the original Spitsbergen [Svalbard] population that survived the extreme historical levels of exploitation. The influence of small population size on song diversity is conflicted; some studies suggest song diversity increases in smaller populations, although others have found that reduced or isolated populations exhibit a reduction in song diversity and produce simpler songs.

In some species, females appear to prefer a diverse song repertoire, suggesting that increased complexity of singing might confer reproductive advantages. A recent study of howler monkeys (Alouatta spp.) documented tradeoffs in male reproductive characteristics based on (temporary) social structure: in groups with fewer males, or smaller social groups, males invested more in vocal displays as a reproductive tactic.  …

Bowhead whales are the only High Arctic resident baleen whale. Thus, interspecific identification via song may not confer the same selective [sic – should say “reproductive success”] advantage for bowheads that it might for other cetacean species. This could reduce selection pressure [sic mystical-magic jargon in original] on song stereotypy, allowing for greater variation in song types as a result of a long-term cultural mutation in songs, or song novelty itself might confer an advantage.

Because bowhead whales sing underwater, in heavy ice during the polar night, a nuanced understanding of the variable syntax of this species will be difficult to obtain.

Nevertheless, the singing behaviour of Spitsbergen bowhead whales, in which tens of distinct song types are produced annually, makes them remarkable among mammals.

[Quoting from Kate M. Stafford, Christian Lydersen, Øystein Wiig, & Kit M. Kovacs, “Extreme Diversity in the Songs of Spitsbergen’s Bowhead Whales”, BIOLOGY LETTERS, 14:20180056 (April 2018).]

But, before Bowhead Whale songs were scrutinized, it was the singing of Humpback Whales that was reported — surprisingly revealing a submarine world of sound communications that most folks would never have imagined.

Humpback-Whale.NWF

HUMPBACK WHALE (Nat’l Wildlife Federation photo)

HUMPBACK WHALES

One of the most unusual music recordings to sell into the “multi-platinum” sales level was an LP album produced in AD1970, called “Songs of the Humpback Whale”, recorded by bio-acoustician Dr. Roger Payne, who had (with Scott McVay) discovered humpback “whale-song” (i.e., complex sonic arrangements of sound, sent for communicative purposes) during the AD1967 breeding season.

Prior to AD1970 Dr. Payne had studied echolocation (i.e., “sonar”) in bats, as well as auditory localization in owls, so (biologically speaking) he had “ears to hear” how animals use vocalized sounds to send and receive information to others of their own kind. Some of Dr. Payne’s work was shared with his wife (married AD1960; divorced AD1985), Katharine Boynton Payne, who noticed the predictable patterns of humpback whale-song, such as “rhymes”.  Acoustical research included spectrograms of whale vocalizations, portraying sound peaks, valleys, and gaps—somewhat (according to her) like musical “melodies” and “rhythms”.

To this day, apparently, “Songs of the Humpback Whale” is the best-selling nature sound recording, commercially speaking. The sensation-causing album (“Songs of the Humpback Whale”) presented diverse whale vocalizations (i.e., “whale songs”) that surprised many, promptly selling more than 100,000 copies.

Some of Dr. Payne’s research on whale-song appeared early, published in SCIENCE magazine, as follows:

(1) Humpback whales ( Megaptera novaeangliae ) produce a series of beautiful and varied sounds for a period of 7 to 30 minutes and then repeat the same series with considerable precision. We call such a performance “singing” and each repeated series of sounds a “song.”

(2) All prolonged sound patterns (recorded so far) of this species are in song form, and each individual adheres to its own song type.

(3) There seem to be several song types around which whales construct their songs, but individual variations are pronounced (there is only a very rough species-specific song pattern).

(4) Songs are repeated without any obvious pause between them; thus song sessions may continue for several hours.

(5) The sequence of themes in successive songs by the same individual is the same. Although the number of phrases per theme varies, no theme is ever completely omitted in our sample.

(6) Loud sounds in the ocean, for example dynamite blasts, do not seem to affect the whale’s songs.

(7) The sex of the performer of any of the songs we have studied is unknown.

(8) The function of the songs is unknown.

[Quoting from Roger S. Payne & Scott McVay, “Songs of Humpback Whales”, SCIENCE, 173(3997):585-597 (August 13th 1971).]

humpback whales.ScienceAlert-photo

HUMPBACK WHALES (ScienceAlert photo)

Dr. Payne eventually suggested that both Blue Whales and “fin whales” (a category of baleen whales also called “finback whales” or “rorqual whales”, which include the Common Rorqual, a/k/a “herring whale” and “razorback whale”) could send communicative sounds, underwater, across an entire ocean, and this phenomenon has been since confirmed by research.

Payne later collaborated with IMAX to produce a unique movie, “Whales:  An Unforgettable Journey”.

Others, of course, have joined in the research, studying humpback whale-song in the Atlantic Ocean.

For example, Howard E. Winn and Lois King K. Winn, both at the University of Rhode Island, summarized some of their research as follows:

Songs of the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae were recorded and analyzed from Grand Turks in the Bahamas to Venezuela. …  The [humpback whale] song is produced only in the winter tropical calving grounds, just before the whales arrive on the banks.  Redundancy is high in that syllables, motifs, phrases and the entire song are repeated. Low, intermediate, and high-frequency sounds are scattered throughout the song. One sound is associated with blowing. The song appears to be partially different each year and there are some differences within a year between banks which may indicate that dialects are present. It is suggested that songs from other populations are quite different. The apparent yearly changes do not occur at one point in time. Only single individuals produce the song and they are hypothesized to be young, sexually mature males.  …

It has been known for 25 years that the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae produces a variety of sounds. However, it was not until 1971 that Payne and McVay (1971), using recordings of humpbacks from Bermuda, demonstrated that the sounds are produced in an ordered sequence. In 1970, Winnet al. verified their findings by showing that humpbacks in Mona Passage, Puerto Rico, also produce a highly patterned song which lasts from 6 to 35 min and is repeated after surfacing.

Variation in the song’s organization has been explained by a number of hypotheses. Winn (1974, 1975) hypothesized that various song types might rep resent geographic herd dialects. Recently, Payne and Payne (in press) studied additional songs from Bermuda and concluded that the song changes each year. The song’s social and behavioral context has also been studied.

Apparently the song is produced only by single, isolated individuals, primarily while they are in the tropics during the winter (Winn et al., 1970; and this paper). They calve and mate during this period, but generally do not feed (Tomilin, 1967).

The song of [humpback patterns include] … “moans and cries”; to “yups or ups and snores”; to “whos or wos and yups”; to “ees and oos”; to “cries and groans”; and finally to varied “snores and cries”. Snores, cries and other sounds can be found in different themes from year to year; yet, invariably one finds a set pattern of changing themes, in a fixed order. Several times humpbacks have breached in the middle of their song and then restarted the song from the beginning or at some different part of the song.

[Quoting from H. E. Winn & L. K. Winn, “The song of the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae in the West Indies”, MARINE BIOLOGY, 47(2):97-114 (January 1st 1978).]

Many years after their earliest research together, Dr. Roger Payne joined with his ex-wife (Katharine Payne) to describe their 19 years of studies of humpback whale-song, especially as observed in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda:

163 songs of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) recorded near Bermuda during April and May of 13 years between 1957 and 1975 have been analysed as continuous sound spectrograms and compared. In each year’s sample, all whales were singing basically the same song. However, the song was changing conspicuously and progressively with time so that songs separated by a number of years were very different in content. All the songs showed basic structural similarities so that it is possible to define a song form which characterizes songs from many years.  …

An analysis, of the songs sung by groups of whales, shows that normal singing continues even when whales are close enough, presumably, to hear each other. Such analysis demonstrates inter– and intra– individual variability, none of which is as great as the variation between songs of consecutive years. We do not understand the significance of changing songs.

We know of no other non-human animal for which such dramatic non-reversing changes appear in the display pattern of an entire population as part of their normal behavior.

[Quoting from Katharine Payne & Roger Payne, “Large Scale Changes over 19 Years in Songs of Humpback Whales in Bermuda”, ETHOLOGY, 68(2):89-114 (April 26th 2010).]

Blue-whale-vs.-elephant-Britannica-pic

BLUE WHALES

Recently Dr. Ana Širović, a Croatian-born oceanographer at University of California—San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (based in La Jolla), reported observations of the Blue Whale—and its habit of underwater singing.  Some of these observations were published by Craig Welch, in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, as follows:

By analyzing thousands of calls from more than 100 whales over 14 years, scientists are learning how these secretive beasts spend their time.

Blue-Whale.NaturalWorldSafaris-photo

BLUE WHALE (Natural World Safaris photo)

The biggest animal to ever live is also the loudest, and it likes to sing at sunset, babble into the night, talk quietly with those nearby, and shout to colleagues 60 miles away.

The blue whale, which can grow to 100 feet long and weigh more than a house, is a veritable chatterbox, especially males, vocalizing several different low-frequency sounds. And for years scientists had only the vaguest notion of when and why these giants of the sea make all those sounds. … In the first effort of its kind, Ana Širović, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and her team scoured a collection of more than 4,500 recordings of blue whale sounds taken from underwater microphones at over a dozen locations over 14 years, from 2002 to 2016, in southern California. The researchers then sync[h]ed the recordings with the movements of 121 whales that had been tagged with suction-cup trackers. What they learned challenged many assumptions about these noisy beasts.

Singing Males

Blue whales of both sexes produce several types of single-note calls, but only males sing. Males are also far noisier, and make different sounds for different reasons, but scientists aren’t always sure what those reasons are. For example, scientists had long assumed that one type of short call was used at meal time. But, instead, males and females frequently produced these vocalizations during dives that didn’t involve foraging at all. “It’s like the two behaviors are entirely separate,” says Širović.

The calls also change with the seasons and with time of day. Some single-note calls seem to occur more often when whales are returning from deep dives. Those may help with pair-bonding, scientists say. Much like birds, which often break into sound as day fades, male blue whales also tend to sing at the end of the day. In some species, such as European robins and nightingales, singing is often adjusted as a means of conserving energy, and energy may be a factor with blue whales as well. But unlike birds, Širović says, “blue whale songs propagate over tens of kilometers or even 100 kilometers.” And when they’re singing, male blues dive deeper. “I think what they are doing by regulating depth is changing the distance over which they’re calling, Širović says. “Individual calls are probably to animals nearby. They may be trying to reach much farther with singing. That’s kind of cool.” She assumes the singing—especially since it’s limited to just males—may somehow be linked to searching for mates. But no one has ever witnessed blue whale reproduction, so she can’t say for certain.

Songs of the Species

Širović has found there are similarities across many species, especially whales in the same family, such as blues, brydes, and sei whales. Males are the predominant singers and there seem to be peak calling seasons. But there are differences, too. Unlike blues, with their deep melodic songs, fin whales don’t really change notes. Their songs, instead, are produced using a single note, but with a rhythmic beat.

And unlike some dolphin species, such as killer whale, it’s not clear whether blues have distinctive voices. So far it appears they do not. “We can’t always tell whether there are 10 calls from 10 whales or one whale calling 10 times,” Širović says. “So far, we can’t really tell Joe Blue Whale from Betty Blue Whale.”

Quoting Craig Welch, “Elusive Blue Whale Behavior Revealed by Their Songs”, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (February 15th, 2018), posted at https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/blue-whale-songs-behavior-decoded-spd/ .
Blue-Whale-breaching.ourmarinespecies.com-photo

BLUE WHALE breaching surface (oumarinespecies.com photo)

This Blue Whale vocalization research, by Dr. Širović, was summarized recently by creation scientist David Coppedge, as follows:

Blue whales—the largest animals in the ocean—are talented singers, too, but little has been known about the music of these secretive beasts.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC reported on a 14-year effort by Scripps Institute in California to decode the vocalizations of 100 blue whales.

Since the sound travels for miles, they could pick up the sounds remotely with underwater microphones, but they also sync[h]ed the sounds with individual whales by outfitting them with suction-cup trackers.

The results were surprising, changing assumptions about blue whale behavior . . .  Both sexes vocalize, but only the males ‘sing’, the researchers found.  They’re also the loudest.  The reasons for all the noise are not well known, but the males seem to begin their ‘deep melodic songs’ around sunset, serenading into the night, probably to attract mates.  …  The more details you learn about living things, the less excuse you have to chalk it up to evolution.

[Quoting from David Coppedge, “Underwater Troubadours”, CREATION MATTERS, 23(2):8-11 (March-April 2018).


Dr. James J. S. Johnson has taught courses in biology, ecology, geography, and related topics (since the mid-AD1990s) for Texas colleges. A student (and traveler) of oceans and seashores, he has lectured as the onboard naturalist (since the late AD1990s) aboard 9 cruise ships, including 4 visiting Alaska and the Inside Passage, with opportunities to see humpback whales, usually (but not always) from a safe distance.  Jim is also a certified specialist in Nordic History & Geography (CNHG) who frequently gives presentations to the Norwegian Society of Texas (and similar groups).  ><> JJSJ      profjjsj@aol.com

BlueWhale-RerdSea-Novinite.com-image

What about Whale Miracles ?

Blue Whale in Red Sea   (Novinite.com image)

What about Whale Miracles?

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:40-41)

Once a sneering skeptic scoffingly discussed the so-called “problem of miracles”, mockingly suggesting that “enlightened” thinkers doubt many Bible “stories”, such as what Christians believe about “the whale miracle”.

But what “whale miracle” was he treating as incredible?  Was he thinking of Jonah being swallowed at sea, yet living to tell the tale of the whale?  If so, is that the only whale miracle?  Some assumptions need clarification, because there’s more than one “whale miracle” to think about.

Jonah-near-whale.Biblewalk-Wordpress-image

The New Testament mentions the prophet Jonah thrice (Matthew 12:39-41 & 16:4; Luke 11:29-32).  The Lord Jesus Christ compared His own death, burial and resurrection to the to the miracle of Jonah in the whale (see especially Matthew 12:40, quoted above).

So what is miraculous about Jonah’s life adventures?

Some say it was God miraculously preserving Jonah’s life, inside the whale (“great fish” in Matthew 12:40), emphasizing how Jonah’s miraculous preservation was comparable to how Christ miraculously defeated death after His crucifixion.(1)

Others (this writer included), considering details of Jonah’s adventure (see especially Jonah 3:2-6, including use of the Hebrew word sheol), suggest that Jonah actually died inside the “great fish”, so the real miracle (that parallels Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection) was how God restored Jonah’s mortal life, miraculously, after Jonah died inside the whale.(2)

Furthermore, others stress that the large-scale revival of the violence-loving Ninevites, at the preaching of Jonah, was just as incredibly miraculous as Jonah’s escaping death in the Mediterranean Sea.(3) Jonah3.10-slideSurely the large-scale repentance of a wickedly violent people, promoted by a previously wicked dictator, involves thousands of heart-miracles, and that is so rare that such large-scale repentance is hard to imagine.(3)

Likewise, although God has sufficient power to preserve a human three days inside an ocean-going cetacean, doing that would be both miraculously rare and remarkable.(1) Even moreso, restoring a once-dead man to mortal life, after the ingested man died inside an oceanic cetacean, is a miracle that doubters quickly shy away from.(2)

Of course, God is quite capable of preserving a man alive, inside a whale – and God is likewise powerful enough to restore life to a man who died inside a whale.  (And, God can even regenerate sin-deadened hearts of repentant humans, who genuinely trust Him for mercy and forgiveness.)

But what other “whale miracles” are there to consider, perhaps miracles “hidden in plain view”?

In fact, the very existence and activities of all the world’s whales – as well as all other cetacean creatures (like porpoises and dolphins) –  constitute a mix of many miracles, beginning on Day 5 of Creation Week, and providentially continually unto the present day.(4)

Blue Whale in Red Sea   (Novinite.com image)

Consider, as examples, these basic facts of Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) biology,(4) which more or less fit the oceanic lives of other whales:  (a) sensitive underwater hearing, detecting whale “songs” miles away, as well as the amazing whale songs(5) themselves; (b) thick blubber, insulating vital organs from cold seawater; (c) live-birth in ocean-water; (d) recessed mammary nipples, for nursing babies with pressure-ejected milk (some whale mothers provide 150+ gallons of milk daily to their babies!); (e) breathing blow-hole, closing for submergence; (f) “floating” rib-cage, for lung collapse when deep-diving; (g) internally located testes, with counter-current cooling system to protect procreative potency; (h) flexible vertebral joints, for tail movement;  (i) tail fluke controlled by system of tendons and muscles; (j) front flippers for maneuvering in ocean water; (j) “enormous tongues [used to] press the water out of their mouths between the [baleen] whalebone lamellae, thus filtering the water and retaining the minute organisms [such as krill]”(6) — and many more amazing details could be listed, with all of these combined making whale life possible, for every whale in the world.(4)

For those with eyes to see it, every whale is a miracle of God, showing God’s power and bioengineering genius.(4)

After analyzing Blue Whale wonders (such as whale-song), creation scientist David Coppedge says: “The more details you learn about living things, the less excuse you have to chalk it up to evolution.”(7)

Surely Jonah would agree.

Jonah-washed-ashore-pic

References

(1) Morris, John D. Morris, “Did Jonah Really Get Swallowed by a Whale?” Acts & Facts, 22 (December 1993).

(2) J. Vernon McGee, Jonah: Dead or Alive? (Nashville, TN: Thru the Bible Radio Network, 1997), pages 13-17. See also Dr. Henry M. Morris’ editorial footnotes to JONAH 1:17, 2:2, 2:5, & 2:6, in The New Defender’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: World Publishing, 2006), pages 1319-1320.

(3) Paul Ferguson, “Nineveh’s ‘Impossible’ Repentance”, Bible & Spade, 27(2):32-35 (2014).

(4) “The gradual evolution of a whale [from land mammal to walking whale to oceanic cetacean] is an impossibility, in the same way that a Land Rover could not gradually turn into a submarine. The whale is designed for aquatic life.” Quoting David Shires, “The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)— Did it evolve?” Journal of the Creation Science Movement20(6):4-5 (2019).  See also Randy J. Guliuzza, “Are Whales and Evolution Joined at the Hip?”, Acts & Facts, 45(3):12-14 (March 2016).

(5) Whales emit a mix of vocal noises, including wailing, low whistle-like moaning, groaning, screeching, buzzing, rasping, droning, etc.;  the classic audio recording is Roger S. Payne’s Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970, available via EMI Records Ltd, 2001 version).  Regarding whale-song, see Craig Welch, “Elusive Blue Whale Behavior Revealed by Their Songs”, National Geographic (February 15th, 2018); Kate M. Stafford, Christian Lydersen, Øystein Wiig, & Kit M. Kovacs, “Extreme Diversity in the Songs of Spitsbergen’s Bowhead Whales”, Biology Letters, 14:20180056 (April 2018); Roger S. Payne & Scott McVay, “Songs of Humpback Whales”, Science, 173(3997):585-597 (August 13th 1971).

(6) Quoting from John Murray & Johan Hjort. The Depths of the Ocean (London: Macmillan, 1912), page 778.

(7) David Coppedge, “Underwater Troubadors”, Creation Matters, 23(2):11 (2018).

 

Critters Are Smart, Using Cues & Signals

Animals Use Environmental Cues, plus Animals Communicate with Signals

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Image result for balaam

25 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.  26 And the Angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.  27 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he [again] smote the donkey with a staff.  28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these 3 times?  29 And Balaam said unto the donkey, Because thou hast mocked me; I wish there was a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.  30 And the donkey said unto Balaam, Am not I thy donkey, upon whom thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day?  Was I ever known to do so unto thee? and he [i.e., Balaam] said, Nay.  31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he [i.e., Balaam] saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and His sword drawn in His hand; and he [i.e., Balaam] bowed down his head, and he [i.e., Balaam] fell flat on his face.  32 And the Angel of the LORD said unto him, Why hast thou smitten thy donkey these 3 times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before Me.  33 And the donkey saw Me, and she turned from Me these 3 times: unless she had turned from Me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.    (Numbers 22:25-33)

Making sense of biological senses is a losing battle for evolutionists, yet explaining creature communication is even worse. There is no chance that animal messaging can be explained by random accidents of bumping biochemicals.

Although their mouths are not “opened” (enabled for speech) like Balaam’s donkey, higher (i.e., nephesh-possessing) animals routinely send other forms of purposeful signals, to influence behaviors of other animals or humans.(1)

To appreciate this, however, we must distinguish between animals using environmental “cues” and truly communicative “signals”.(2)

Ecologically speaking, “cues” are environmental or creature features that, when detected, are useful in acquiring information relevant to future activities.(2),(3)

mosquito-CO2-cartoon

For example, when blood-thirsty mosquitos seek “fast food”, they often fly upwind if their chemoreceptors sense carbon dioxide (CO2), because continually exhaled CO2 reveals where warm-blooded mammals are.  (Carbon dioxide in the air is a “cue” to female mosquitos — indicating that mammal blood is nearby!)

But exhaled CO2 is not a “message” intentionally sent (by mammals) to mosquitos!

Rather, exhaled CO2 is a “cue” to mosquitos, indicating “mammal blood is available here”—but there is no mammalian intent to transmit that (disadvantageous-to-the-mammal) information unto the blood-thirsty parasitic pests.(2)

dogs-with-food-bowls

Contrast that to domesticated dogs barking, to alert humans: “I’m hungry! Feed me!”  That barking, ecologically speaking, is a messaging “signal”—a consciously prepared

message, sent to another intelligent creature (in this example, a human)—for the purpose of prompting a behavioral response (that helps the “speaking” animal).(2),(4)

This is true communication; there is a message sender, a transmitted message (understandable coded information), and a receiver—and the sender’s messaging purpose was to influence responsive action by the receiver.(4)

Yet, for there to be purpose, in message sending, senders must have motives, think, decide, and communicatively act. So message-senders must possess some type of personal (or person-like) internal “software” enabling motivation, thinking, decision-making,–as well as physiological “hardware” sufficient for preparing and transmitting “signaling” actions.(4),(5)

Of course, actions are not true “signals” (i.e., messages) unless they have purposes for influencing responses by signal-comprehending recipients.(2) If signals are incomprehensible to the intended receiver(s), those signals fails to be meaning-conveying messages.(2),(4)

Likewise, message recipients must be able to understand (i.e., decode, decipher) the message sent, sufficiently to facilitate timely and relevant adjustment of the receiver’s own behavior, in response to messages received.(4)

Without these ingredients—(a) sender preparing and sending messages; (b) using language (or comparable code of information) known to both sender and receiver; and (c)  receiver’s reception and response-relevant understanding of messages—no real “communication” occurs.

Yet when creature communication does occur—as it does worldwide, daily, in many contexts—it powerfully demonstrates God’s providential bioengineering design for meaningful and purposeful messaging.  Don’t expect an impersonal “big bang”, eons ago, to invent any of that!

Accordingly, environmental tracking makes sense, because God designed and equipped animals to acquire and adjust to contextual cues.(3)

Furthermore, God designed and equipped us humans—and higher animals—to intentionally communicate purposefully coded signals, to intended recipients, for prompting expected responses.(4),(5),(6),(7)

Get the message?

Image result for balaam

References

(1) Numbers 22. To illustrate dog-to-human communication, in the stranger-than-fiction adventures of Antis (the RAF aviator-dog who, during World War II, displayed lots of nephesh!), see James J. S. Johnson, “High-Altitude Flying Is for the Birds”, Acts & Facts, 45(3):20-21 (March 2016), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/high-altitude-flying-for-birds .

(2) Davies, Nicholas B., et al., An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, 4th ed. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pages 394-423, especially page 395 (contrasting “cues” and “signals”).

(3) See Randy J. Guliuzza & Phil B. Gaskill, “Continuous Environmental Tracking: An Engineering Framework to Understand Adaptation and Diversification” Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Creationism, edited  by John H. Whitmore,  (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 2018), pages 158-184.  See also Randy J. Guliuzza,  “Engineered Adaptability: Continuous Environmental Tracking Wrap-Up”, Acts& Facts, 48(8):17-19 (August 2019), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/continuous-environmental-tracking-wrap-up/ .  Specifically regarding how fish need informational cues within their underwater habitats, see James J. S. Johnson, “Even Fish Need to Know!”, Acts & Facts, 45(1):21 (January 2016), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/even-fish-need-know .

(4) As 1st Corinthians 14:8 reminds us, sounds only make sense if sender and receiver are agreed on the “code” for interpreting messages sent.  In human terms, it takes a common language (or code) for humans to send and receive meaningful messages. Thus, those not knowing the conventional code, or “language”, of signals sent, won’t recognize intended message meanings.  This is true, generally, of all coded information, including God’s biogenetic programming designed to produce biochemical results in protein construction at inanimate ribosome factories.  See James J. S. Johnson, “DNA and RNA: Providential Coding to ‘Revere’ God”, Acts & Facts40(3):8-9 (March 2011), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/dna-rna-providential-coding-revere .

(5) Genesis 1:20-24; 2:19; 9:10-16; Numbers 22:25-30. James J. S. Johnson, “Clever Creatures: ‘Wise from Receiving Wisdom”, Acts & Facts46(3):21 (March 2017), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/clever-creatures-wise-from-receiving .

(6) The principle of 1st Corinthians 14:8 even applies to the sounds of locomotive train air-horns, a/k/a train “whistles”  —  see JJSJ, “Steam Trumpets, for Those with Ears to Hear” (August 20th AD2019) posted at https://pinejay.com/2019/08/20/steam-trumpets-for-those-with-ears-to-hear/  .

(7) James J. S. Johnson, “The Ghost Army”, Acts & Facts44(11):20 (November 2015), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/ghost-army .


 

 

When the Genesis Flood’s Tsunamis Hit Norway and Svalbard, Terrestrial Dinosaurs were Power-Washed Out to Sea


When  the  Genesis  Flood’s  Tsunamis  Hit  Norway  and  Svalbard,   Terrestrial  Dinosaurs  were  Power-Washed  Out  to  Sea

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

They that go down to the sea [yâm] in ships, who do business in great waters [mayîm rabbîm]; these see the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep [metsûlâh].   (Psalm 107:23-24)

Snorre-Field-dinosaur-bone-in-OilDrillCore.NorwJGeol-AD2006.png

Recently I wrote about some unusual dinosaur-related paleontology finds in 2 territories belonging to Norway, specifically Spitsbergen (the main island of the far-north Svalbard archipelago) and the sedimentary seabed of “Snorre Field” (in the Norwegian North Sea), a deepsea oil-drilling location more than 50 miles to the west of Norway’s western coastline — with mention of how the best explanation for those finds (i.e., the Genesis Flood) reminded me of the gigantic Whopper Sand in the Gulf of Mexico, where an enormous Flood-blasted sand formation now yields literally billions of barrels of deepsea petroleum.   [See “Doomsday at the Beach for Nordic Dinosaurs!“, posted at  https://pinejay.com/2019/04/26/doomsday-at-the-beach-for-nordic-dinosaurs/   —  with picture/image credits shown here, cited there.]

Dinosaur tracks were found on Svalbard’s sedimentary rock beaches, and some Plateosaurus dinosaur bone was found (inside an oil-drill core!) about a mile-and-a-half deep, more than 70 miles offshore of Norway!

Only the forceful mega-tsunamis of the Genesis Flood could cause those results, says geologist/paleontologist Dr. Tim Clarey (who formerly worked for Chevron):

Only a massive, high-energy flow of water and muddy sand could transport a dinosaur over 70 miles offshore. And only repeated high-energy flows could bury it about 1.5 miles deep.  We are talking unimaginable energy needed here, greater than any tsunami witnessed in historic (post-Flood) times.  And similarly, the Whopper Sand in the Gulf of Mexico needs massive, high-energy sheet-flow off the (North American) continent.  Something again, beyond anything happening today (geologically speaking).  These features, and the dinosaur footprints on Svalbard, are difficult to comprehend without recognizing a catastrophe as big as the great (global) Flood described in Genesis.  There is just no other conceivable explanation (that fits the observable facts).”

[Quoting Dr. Timothy Clarey, summary provided in writing AD2019-04-25.]

WOW! It was a terrible day at the beach when the Svalbard ornithopod dinosaurs were tsunami-blasted into the sea.  Likewise, the doomed Plateosaurus, buried (~1.5 miles deep!) in sea sediments, off the shore of western Norway (70+ miles away from his “home”) had no clue about  what had just hit him.

Svalbard-beach-ornithopods.AD2016-ScienceNordic-pic

Today I wrote a limerick poem, as a post-script of that paleontology/geology study.

NORDIC-POLAR  DINOSAURS  GOT  WASHED  OUT  TO  SEA,  BY  THE  GENESIS  FLOOD   (UNLESS  THEY  ESCAPED  ON  NOAH’S  ARK)

Dinos, who roamed Norway’s shores,

Got buried, in North Sea floors;

Power-washed, by the great Flood,

Buried deep, in sand and mud  —

Left behind, and drowned, dinosaurs.

Other than the God-selected dinosaur pairs who were safety aboard Noah’s Ark, it was a catastrophic watery death for Earth’s terrestrial dinosaurs, including those then living in the Nordic-polar lands that we today call Norway and Svalbard.  Thankfully, there will never be another global flood  —  and we are wise to recall how it illustrates God’s holy judgment (as Peter reminds us, in 2nd Peter chapter 3)  — it was a one-of-a-kind cataclysm that violently destroyed beach-going (and other terrestrial) dinosaurs, in the polar North and elsewhere, all over on planet Earth.

Svalbard-paleontologists-working.AD2016-ScienceNordic

Svalbard-map-ornithopod-tracks.AD2016-ScienceNordicSnorre-Field-map-NorwegianNorthSea.NorwJGeol-AD2006.png


Not-so-irrelevant  trivia:   For 3 weeks  during the summer of AD2003,  Dr. James J. S. Johnson taught history and geography  on the high seas,  aboard the MARCO POLO  (a cruise ship  about the same size as Noah’s Ark).

Termite Towers & Filter-Feeders

Termite Towers & Filter-Feeders

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (2nd Timothy 3:7)

Termites-CathedralMounds-Australia.Wikipedia-photo

“Cathedral mounds” built by Australian termites (Wikipedia photo)

The failure of many evolutionists, to see what they are looking at (i.e., to see what is “hidden in plain view”) is comparable to an error British Celts made when Julius Caesar attacked Britain’s shores, at Kent in 54 BC.

The native Celts reported Caesar’s beach landing as an attack by combined armies of Rome, Libya, and Syria.(1) Unlike Romans, British Celts never recruited multi-ethnic mercenaries, so the Britons misinterpreted the invaders as a horde of allied (but separate) armies.(1) Likewise, evolutionists now misunderstand many facts “in plain view”, due to erroneous assumptions.

The evolutionary ecology concept of “ecosystem engineering” was recently introduced in an earlier study(2) to show how some evolutionists are improving their understanding of how proactive animals are, in altering ecosystems—yet those same evolutionists continue to miss the best lessons that these animals can teach us.(2)

Two such misunderstandings are considered below.

“BIGGER-IS-BETTER” AND ANTHROPOCENTRIC FALLACIES

When considering the “ecosystem engineering” concept’s utility, some ecologists try to limit the concept’s application to animal-produced habitat alterations that are impactfully “big”, as opposed to minimal. Thus, beaver dams and coral reefs are recognized as “big enough” to qualify as “ecosystem engineering” habitat modifications.(2)  But “little” habitat alterations, like bird-nests and prairie burrows, are often dismissed as de minimis—not worthy of comparable attention.(2)

However, when evaluating ecological activity, this is a “bigger-is-better” fallacy. Which is more “important”, ecologically speaking, a huge elephant—or a microscopic yet deadly virus?

Also, when evaluating whether animal activity is “big enough”, to be ecologically “important”, applying anthropocentric perspectives is unrealistic.

For example, consider how deadwood-eating termites aggressively modify their neighborhoods, using saliva-soil mud, building air-conditioned mud “chimneys” above interconnected subsurface tunnels.

Mounds built by Australia’s Amitermes merionalis termites can be taller than 12’ tall, 8’ wide, and 3’ deep underground.(3)

For adult humans, of heights 6’ tall (more or less), this is impressive, but perhaps not shockingly so.  However, to better appraise these physical construction feats, consider that Amitermes “worker” termites are about a third-of-an-inch long.  The termites-to-mound height ratio is 432:1 (12’-tall mound, compared to 1/3-of-an-inch-long termite), comparable to humans constructing spit-mud mounds 2592’ high—almost double the Empire State Building’s height!

So, to a “worker” termite, its mound “chimney” is an enormous skyscraper!

Termite-mound-with-cheetah-Namibia.SeedingLabs

Cheetah atop Termit Mound in Namibia   (Seeding Labs photo)

Other examples could be given.

The world’s largest bay, the Chesapeake, is burdened with excess nitrogen and organic nutrients that people repeatedly release into its tributaries.

HookedMussels-on-Oysters.MdDeptNaturalResourcesOysters with Mussels   (Chesapeake Bay Program)

Oyster reefs, bolstered by attached mussels, filtering huge volumes of bay water, consume otherwise-unrestrained (nitrogen-compound-fueled) growth of picoplankton (comprising ~15% of bay phytoplankton biomass, during summer), preventing unchecked algal blooms that would block sunlight from submergent aquatic plants, leading to oxygen-depleted “dead zones”.(4)

Thankfully, the combined filtering of Eastern Oysters and Hooked Mussels provides estuarial water clean-up services, “hidden in plain sight”, ultimately benefiting dissolved oxygen needs of the interactive Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem.(4)

SO, WHO ENGINEERED ALL OF THESE “SMALL-YET-GREAT” ECOSYSTEM BENEFITS?

Please, don’t praise bivalve brainpower, for figuring all of this out!—oysters and mussels are neither bioengineering-savvy ecosystem designers, nor conservation scientists.

Likewise, don’t fête the Australian Amitermes termites, as if they were brilliant architects, construction engineers, or HVAC experts!—they’re just bioengineered bugs.

Rather, give due glory to creation’s Architect and Bioengineer, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:7), for He has built and maintains all of these “small-yet-great” super-interactive ecosystems (Revelation 4:11).

Happy-as-a-Clam.CranberryCollective

REFERENCES

(1)William R. Cooper, After the Flood (Chichester, England: New Wine Press, 1995), 58-59, citing Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.  (Don’t expect to ever find a more insightful or godlier scholar of Anglo-Saxon history than Laird Bill Cooper!)

(2) “Ecosystem engineering” analysis improves upon earlier “keystone species” concepts, yet ultimately fails to identify the true cause and logic underlying animal successes in filling various habitats. James J. S. Johnson, “Ecosystem Engineering Explanations Miss the Mark”, Acts & Facts, 48(3):20-21 (March 2019), illustrating 2 Timothy 3:7.  Evolutionists’ failure to recognize God as the divine Architect-Bioengineer is illustrated by recent ecology literature on “ecosystem engineering”, e.g., Jones, C. G., J. H. Lawton, & M. Shachak, “Organisms as Ecosystem Engineers”, Oikos. 69:373-386 (1994); Wright, J. and C. G. Jones, “The Concept of Organisms as Ecosystem Engineers Ten Years On: Progress, Limitations, and Challenges”, BioScience. 56(3):203-209 (2006).  With all the Darwinist emphasis on antagonistic competition between species, the ecological realities of mutualistic neighborliness in biotic communities was downplayed and/or dismissed. See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “Misreading Earth’s Groanings: Why Evolutionists and Intelligent Design Proponents Fail Ecology 101”, Acts & Facts. 39 (8):8-9 (August 2010); James J. S. Johnson, “Grand Canyon Neighbors: Pines, Truffles, and Squirrels”, Acts & Facts. 47(10):21 (October 2018); James J. S. Johnson, “Cactus, Bats, and Christmas Gift-Giving”, Acts & Facts. 46 (12):21 (December 2017).  See also, accord, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Engineered Adaptability: Fast Adaptation Confirms Design-Based Model”, Acts & Facts. 47(9):18-20 (September 2018); Randy J. Guliuzza, “Engineered Adaptability: Sensor Triggers Affirm Intelligently Designed Internalism”, Acts & Facts. 47(2):17-19 (February 2018).

(3) Gordon C. Grigg, “Some Consequences of the Shape and Orientation of ‘Magnetic’ Termite Mounds”, Australian Journal of Zoology, 21:231-237 (1973), noting how Amitermes meridionalis termite mounds sometimes 4 meters high.

(4) Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, “Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits”, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (2014). See also Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater Bivalves Flexing their Muscles as Water Filterers”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 28(7):1 (October 2018), cited in “Have You Thanked God for Mussels Lately?”, Bibleworld Adventures (Nov. 12, AD2019), posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2018/11/12/have-you-thanked-god-for-mussels-lately/ .  See also, for further discussion of estuariah ecosystem benefits contributed by oysters and mussels, Loren D. Coen, Robert D. Brumbaugh, David Bushek, Ray Grizzle, mark W. Luckenbach, Martin H. Posey, Sean P. Powers, & S. Gregory Tolley, “Ecosystem Services Related to Oyster Restoration”, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 341:303-307 (July 2007), saying: “Although further discussion and research leading to a more complete understanding is required, oysters and other molluscs (e.g., mussels) in estuarine ecosystems provide services far beyond the mere top-down control of phytoplankton blooms, such as (1) seston filtration, (2) benthic-pelagic coupling, (3) creation of refugia from predation, (4) creation of feeding habitat for juveniles and adults of mobile species, and for sessile stages of species that attach to molluscan shells, and (5) provision of nesting habitat.”  Obviously God is the ultimate multi-tasking Bioengineer!


Termites-underground-Pestkilled.com-photo

TERMITES UNDERGROUND!  Pestkilled.com photograph

HOT DESERTS: Lethal to Some, Yet Home to Others

HOT DESERTS:  LETHAL TO SOME, YET HOME TO OTHERS

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.  (ISAIAH 35:1)

Vinegaroon-WhipScorpion

VINEGAROON WHIP-SCORPION (photo credit: Things Biological blog)

In deserts the temps climb quite high,

With scarce rain, those lands get quite dry;

Such climes can be torrid,

For some that is horrid —

Yet yuccas can cope when it’s dry.

 

Yes, deserts are truly alive;

Harsh heat some critters survive;

Like cactus blooms brilliant,

And lizards resilient —

There sagebrush and rattlesnakes thrive.

(The above limerick I have titled “Hot Deserts: Lethal to Some, Yet Home to Others”.)

COMMENTARY:  As Isaiah 35:1 indicates, the glory of the Lord is displayed even in desert places (including arid wildernesses that most of us would consider wastelands), where even cactus flowers blossom with bright colors and beauty, attracting pollinators, as their succulent tissues store water for desert birds such as Gila woodpeckers.  God’s glory is displayed in the magnificent variety of creatures (including the exotic Vinegaroon scorpion!) and habitats He has decorated the earth with.

It is the adventure and privilege of mankind, created in God’s own image – and redeemed by the blood of God incarnate  — to learn of these treasures in God’s creation, and to appreciate God for showcasing His power and wisdom in such humbles creatures as such desert denizens, who daily brave the hot and arid extremes, living and in desert places.


Rattler-fangs-ready2bite.Pinterest

Striking Rattlesnake

HAVE YOU THANKED GOD FOR MUSSELS LATELY?

HAVE YOU  THANKED  GOD  FOR  MUSSELS  LATELY?

James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, MSGeog, CNHG

HookedMussels-on-Oysters.MdDeptNaturalResources

Hooked Mussels attached to Oysters, Chesapeake Bay oyster-reef
(Chris Judy / Maryland Dep’t of Natural Resources photo)

And it shall come to pass, that everything that lives, which moves, wherever the rivers shall go, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall go there, for they shall be healed; and everything shall live where the river goes.   (Ezekiel 47:9)

Healthy rivers are a good thing. But sometimes a “hero” is needed, to clean up unhealthy rivers, or to “keep clean” rivers that will otherwise go bad.

Tough “clean-up” jobs, as well as “keep-it-clean” maintenance jobs, are often accomplished by unsung heroes. For example, the tough job of cleaning up water quality (and the job of maintaining water quality) in coastal wetlands requires some helpful muscles, such as those of the Chesapeake Bay’s mussels!  So, shouldn’t such helpful bivalves be given due credit, for what they do?

Mussels, once mostly ignored, are now being touted for their ability to clean streams much like oysters do for the Bay. Oysters are in many ways the restoration darlings of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. Touted for multiple benefits — as edible, water-filtering moneymakers — oysters attract both enthusiasm and funding to promote their recovery.

But the popularity of oysters often overshadows the water-cleansing role of other filter feeders such as mussels. A growing group of mussel advocates think it’s high time that the bivalves share the spotlight as clean-water workhorses that can carry the message farther upstream.

 Projects to propagate mussels and restore them to waterways where they once thrived are cropping up in parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania as researchers working on them in various states begin to join efforts. The goal is to return some of the diversity once found in these waterways — mussel by mussel — so they can filter, feed, clean and otherwise serve the local ecosystem.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1 (October 2018).]

So, what service do mussels provide, such as the mussels which dwell in Chesapeake Bay watershed streams and estuarial wetlands?

Research in Chesapeake Bay shows that the mussels that typically colonize a restored oyster reef can more than double the reef’s overall filtration capacity. Filtering plankton helps improve water quality because these tiny drifting organisms thrive on the excess nitrogen and other nutrients that humans release into the Bay and its tributaries through farming, wastewater outflow, and the burning of fossil fuels. …

Restoring oysters — and their ability to filter large volumes of water — is widely seen as a key way to improve the health of Chesapeake Bay. New research makes this calculus even more appealing, showing that the mussels that typically colonize the nooks and crannies of a restored oyster reef can more than double its overall filtration capacity.

The study — by researchers at the University of Maryland, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science — appears as the cover story in the most recent issue of Restoration Ecology [i.e., Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (May 2014), DOI: 10.1111/rec.12107 ]

“Many efforts to restore coastal habitat focus on planting just one species, such as oysters, mangroves, or seagrass,” says [University of Maryland]’s Keryn Gedan, the study’s lead author. “However, our research shows that the positive effects of diverse ecosystems can be much greater. In the case of oyster reefs, commonly associated species such as mussels may multiply the water quality benefits of restoration by filtering more and different portions of the plankton.”

“Estimates of the ecosystem services provided by a restoration project are used to justify, prioritize, and evaluate such projects,” adds [Virginia Institute of Marine Science] scientist Lisa Kellogg. “By quantifying the significant role that mussels can play in filtration within an oyster-reef habitat, our work shows that the ‘return on investment’ for oyster-reef restoration is potentially much higher than commonly thought.”

Filtering plankton helps improve water quality [and thus functions as an “ecosystem engineer”  —  JJSJ comment] because these tiny drifting organisms thrive on the excess nitrogen and other nutrients that humans release into the Bay and its tributaries through farming, wastewater outflow, and the burning of fossil fuels.

“Filtering plankton from the water is the first step towards removing nutrients,” says Kellogg. “Although some will be returned to the water column, a significant portion will be removed from the system.” Removing plankton also has more direct benefits. Left unchecked, plankton can form dense blooms that shade other aquatic plants such as seagrass, and can lead to low-oxygen “dead zones” when they die, sink, and decay.

The research team, which also included SERC’s Denise Breitburg, based their findings on a combination of laboratory experiments and computer modeling. In the lab, they added phytoplankton of different size classes to tanks containing eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) or hooked mussels (Ischadium recurvum), then measured the animals’ filtration rates at different temperatures. They then incorporated these measured rates into a simple model and used that to simulate overall filtration for three different restoration scenarios in Harris Creek, Maryland, one of the East Coast’s largest oyster-reef restoration sites.

Kellogg’s main contribution to the paper was data on the relative abundance of oysters, mussels, and other organisms inhabiting restored oyster reefs collected during her time as a post-doctoral researcher at Maryland’s Horn Point Lab. These data, which showed that the biomass of mussels on a restored reef can equal or exceed that of the oysters, were used as baselines for the model projections.

The results of that modeling were clear. “On average,” says Gedan, “adding filtration by hooked mussels into our model increased the filtration capacity of the reef by more than two-fold.”

Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton,” says Breitburg. Picoplankton are the smallest category of marine plankton, ranging from about 1.5 to 3 microns (a human red blood cell is about 5 microns across). Picoplankton are particularly abundant in Chesapeake Bay during summer, with an earlier study from the York River showing they can make up nearly 15% of phytoplankton “biomass” during the warmer months.

“Some have suggested that oyster reef restoration will be less effective than expected in controlling phytoplankton populations because of oysters’ inability to filter picoplankton,” says Kellogg. “Our discoveries with mussels lessen that concern.”

“The mussels’ ability to filter the picoplankton indicates that they fill a distinct ecological niche,” adds Gedan. “Accounting for both oyster and mussel filtration, large-scale restoration projects like those going on in Chesapeake Bay could significantly control phytoplankton, especially during the summer months, when animals filter the most.”

The bottom line, says Gedan, is that “estimates of the ecosystem services provided by just the oysters on an oyster reef may vastly underrepresent the reefs’ overall contribution. Because oyster reefs also contain many other filter-feeding species, they will likely benefit water quality much more than previous modeling efforts suggest.” Kellogg is now taking this line of research further, studying how another common oyster-reef inhabitant — an organism called a tunicate — might also contribute to gains in water quality. Tunicates, fleshy animals also known as sea squirts, filter plankton and other particles from the water similarly to oysters and mussels.

[Quoting Virginia Institute of Marine Science, “Study Puts Some Mussels into Chesapeake Bay Restoration”, 9-8-AD2014, at ScienceDaily.com posting https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140908121538.htm .]

Summarized in technical ecology lingo, the researchers abstract their findings on mussel filter-cleaning as follows:

Many coastal habitat restoration projects are focused on restoring the population of a single foundation species to recover an entire ecological community. Estimates of the ecosystem services provided by the restoration project are used to justify, prioritize, and evaluate such projects. However, estimates of ecosystem services provided by a single species may vastly under‐represent true provisioning, as we demonstrate here with an example of oyster reefs, often restored to improve estuarine water quality.

In the brackish Chesapeake Bay, the hooked mussel Ischadium recurvum can have greater abundance and biomass than the focal restoration species, the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. We measured the temperature‐dependent phytoplankton clearance rates of both bivalves and their filtration efficiency on three size classes of phytoplankton to parameterize an annual model of oyster reef filtration, with and without hooked mussels, for monitored oyster reefs and restoration scenarios in the eastern Chesapeake Bay.

The inclusion of filtration by hooked mussels increased the filtration capacity of the habitat greater than 2fold. Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton (1.5–3 µm), indicating that they fill a distinct ecological niche by controlling phytoplankton in this size class, which makes up a significant proportion of the phytoplankton load in summer.

When mussel and oyster filtration are accounted for in this, albeit simplistic, model, restoration of oyster reefs in a tributary scale restoration is predicted to control 100% of phytoplankton during the summer months.

[Quoting Keryn B. Gedan, Lisa Kellogg, & Denise L. Breitburg, Accounting for Multiple Foundation Species in Oyster Reef Restoration Benefits, Restoration Ecology, 22(4):517 (May 2014), DOI: 10.1111/rec.12107 ]

Wow! Good for the Eastern Oysters, for their work in filter-cleaning Chesapeake Bay estuarial picoplankton, yet compliments also to the Hooked Mussels for their respective contributions to the clean-up work!  (This illustrates good teamwork!)

But it’s not just the brackish waters of Chesapeake Bay wetlands that host mussels. (Thus, there are other waters that benefit from mussel cleaning.)  In fact, mussels often thrive in riverine freshwater habitats other than those which limnologists would classify as “coastal wetlands”.

TexasFreshwaterMussel-lifecycle.TPWD

Texas Freshwater Mussel life cycle   (Texas Parks & Wildlife Dep’t image)

In Texas, for example, freshwater mussels are both plentiful and diverse, living in both lotic (running) and lentic (standing) bodies of water.

Freshwater mussels may inhabit a variety of water-body types including large and small rivers and streams, lakes, ponds, canals, and reservoirs. More stable habitats may have larger and more diverse populations than do smaller and less stable waters.  Some species tolerate a wide variety of conditions [e.g., various bottom types, currents, water depths, water pH and other chemistry factors, water clarity, amount of sunlight, turbidity, aquatic vegetation, percentage of dissolved oxygen saturation, water temperature, biotic community make-up, etc.], but others may be more specific.  Certain mussels may require moderate to swiftly flowing waters, and typically fail to survive in lakes or impoundments.

Headwater spring pools and streams in Texas Hill Country typically harbor few if any mussels largely because the cool, clear waters lack sufficient phytoplankton and other foods needed to support mussel populations. A few species like pondhorns (Uniomerus spp.) occur in temporary ponds and periodically-dry portions of intermittent streams by burrowing into the substrate during dewatering.

[Quoting Robert G. Howells, Raymond W. Neck, & Harold D. Murray, FRESHWATER MUSSELS OF TEXAS (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Inland Fisheries Division, 1996), page 14.]

In Texas, for instance, freshwater mussels —  especially dozens of varieties of unionid mussels (freshwater-dwelling mollusk bivalves a/k/a “naiads”)  —  have flourished for centuries in the enormously biodiverse bayou-waters of Caddo Lake, Texas’ sole “natural lake” (which borders Louisiana).

However, freshwater mussels have also been studied in these major river systems of the Lone Star State:

Canadian River (only slim pickings in these Panhandle-traversing waters); Red River (serving as the Texas-Oklahoma border to Arkansas, swelling at the artificially expanded Lake Texoma, favoring mussel populations including unionids such as pondshell, pondhorn, and yellow sandshell, as well as some clams);

Sulphur River (a Red River tributary, once intensively fished for mussels);

Big Cypress Bayou (a tributary of Caddo Lake, once fished for mussel pearls);

Sabine River (flowing to Texas’ border with Louisiana, then into the Gulf of Mexico, once intensively fished for mussels);

Neches River, including its tributary Angelina River (flowing through Texas piney woodlands, with no recent major harvesting of mussels);

Trinity River, flowing into Trinity Bay (pollution has been a historic problem, killing off mussel populations, though some unionids are observed within Lake Lewisville, an artificially formed reservoir-tributary of the Trinity River drainage system);

San Jacinto River (flowing north of Houston, draining into Trinity Bay, hosting washboard and threeridge mussels – as evidence by mussels stranded in dewatered areas during droughts);

Brazos River (Texas’ longest river between the Red River and the Rio Grande, hosting unionids in its tributary Navasota River);

Colorado River (containing unionid mussels in several of its tributaries);

Lavaca River (no significant mussels observed);

Guadalupe River, with its primary tributary San Antonio River, plus other tributaries including Blanco River and San Marcos River (sporadically hosting washboards and other river mussels);

Nueces River (flowing into Nueces Bay, with muddier tributaries hosting some mussels); and the Rio Grande, including its tributary Pecos River (separating Texas from Mexico, and variously hosting some unionid mussels).

[For specific biogeography details, see Howells, Neck, & Murray, FRESHWATER MUSSELS OF TEXAS, pages 29-32.]

The water-filtering benefits of wetland mussels are worthy of appreciation; however, not every impact of mussels is advantageous, as is illustrated by the invasive (and pervasive) nuisance known as the non-unionid Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha).  The miniscule Zebra Mussel is not covered as a topic, here, except to notice that it has caused a lot of disturbing and non-miniscule impacts in many freshwater lakes of America and Europe, from one water-body to another, due to over-land transport as attachments to the hulls of recreational boats.  [Regarding Zebra Mussel nuisance impacts, see Winfried Lampert & Ulrich Sommer, LIMNOECOLOGY: THE ECOLOGY OF LAKES AND STREAMS, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010), pages 123 & 224-225.]

Freshwater mussels come in all shapes and sizes, with nicknames that indicate their unique forms or textures, such as snuffbox, spectacle-case, pimple-back and pistol-grip. Most live in rivers or streams, some others in lakes and ponds, but all rely on a current of water to provide phytoplankton and bacteria that they filter-feed from the water. Some species can live to be more than 100 years old. They also have a complex life cycle that makes them difficult — but not impossible — to reproduce in hatcheries. Most need a fish to act as a host as they start their life: The larvae find shelter and grow in fish gills until they can navigate the waters on their own. Some mussels create lures to draw in their preferred host, and some clamp onto the fish with trap-like mouths. If the fish species preferred by a certain mussel disappears, the mussel does, too.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

In order to analyze the benefits of coastal wetland mussels, such as those which are quietly filter-cleaning wetland waters within the Chesapeake Bay drainage watershed, someone needs to carefully study them.

But, since most of these mollusks are not commercially exploited, who will pay for the scientific research on these humble bivalves?

Other parts of the country, such as the Tennessee River system and Delaware Bay, have seen the fruit that comes from investing in mussel propagation and research. Meanwhile, mussels have often fallen below the radar of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. That may be because freshwater mussels, unlike oysters or some saltwater mussels, don’t end up on human plates.

Research and restoration funding is harder to come by, even though three-quarters of freshwater mussel species are considered to be at some level of impairment. The money often comes in an off-and-on fashion from mitigation payments for environmental disasters and permit renewals, and partners in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort community have not focused their resources on mussels. … Many of the mussel advocates who gathered along the James River in July first interacted with the mollusks outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed — in the Clinch River, which rises in the southwest corner of Virginia and flows into Tennessee. The Clinch River is home to most of Virginia’s 81 mussel species, more than a third of which are endangered. The diversity of mussels found there has made the river a hotspot for research nationally. …

The Harrison Lake facility [i.e., the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery, located along the James River south of Richmond, Virginia – an activity of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior], built in the 1930s to support recreational fisheries, now has the capacity to grow tens of millions of mussels. Over the last decade, the facility transitioned from a focus on migratory fish species such as American shad to also growing tiny glochidia, the name for larval-stage mussels, into young mollusks.

When Dominion’s Bremo Power Station renewed its water discharge permit, the hatchery got more than a half-million dollars from the deal after a threatened mussel was found to be impacted by its discharge. When DuPont had to pay $42 million to settle a case over mercury contamination of the South River, the hatchery got $4 million. The coal ash spill in the Dan River in 2014 brought in additional funds to help replenish mussel species that might have been lost.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

HarrisonLake-hatchery-sign.USFWSThe Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery employs a staff of five – and their aquaculture efforts are producing results.

The hatchery team used to release tiny mussels into portions of the James watershed and hope for the best. Now, the staff has the technology to grow them “almost indefinitely” at the facility to a large enough size that they have much better survival rates in the wild. The center propagates the mussels by collecting female mussels that already have larvae in their gills, which the staff either extracts with a needle (to mimic a fish rubbing against it) or allows the mussel to release. Placed into tanks with their host fish, the larvae will attach to the fish before dropping off two to four weeks later to continue feeding and growing in a series of tanks. The lab is also working on in vitro fertilization for mussel species whose host fish is not known.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

In order to track progress, regarding the future growth and activities of mussels released to “the wild”, the hatchery uses a monitoring system that is analogous to bird-banding  —  the hatchery laser-etches identifying code markings onto the shell of a mussel, before release.  Also, some rare mussels receive special tagging.

At the hatchery, in a squat building paid for by the Bremo mitigation funds, biological science technician Bryce Maynard demonstrated methods used to tag and track the progress of mussels grown here before being launched into wild waters. He flipped the switch on a laser engraver that can carve numbers into several rows of mussels at a time, leaving a burnt-hair smell in the air and marking thousands of mussels a day for future tracking. Among the hatchery mussels are rare species such as the James spinymussel, which was once abundant in the James River upstream of Richmond but disappeared from most of its range by the late 1980s. The hatchery-raised spinymussels are marked with tags sealed in place with dental cement. The tags can be located later with a beeping detector but are costlier than other tracking methods.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

So what is the main benefit expected from these costly investment? Besides overall enhancing of the coastal wetland ecosystems, water filtering is expected, since that is what mussels are famous for.

Every mussel that finds its way into the watershed and survives could help filter about 10 liters of water per day, said Danielle Kreeger, senior science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, where she’s become an advocate for the potential of what she calls the #mightymussel.  “Pound for pound, freshwater mussels are not slouches,” she said  …  “To me, every mussel is precious, and we need to protect them.”  Kreeger, in the coming months, will be completing a review of studies on the ability of such bivalves to enhance water quality, which she hopes will shore up the amount of data available about mussels’ benefits.

[Quoting Whitney Pipkin, “Freshwater bivalves flexing their muscles as water filterers”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 28(7):1,17 (October 2018).]

To be clear, the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery is not limited to hatching mussels for the Chesapeake Bay’s tributary waters.

In fact, the USF&W operation there is, as one would expect, focused largely on piscatorial aquaculture, i.e., hatching fish, especially American Shad, as well as some alewife, blueback herring, hickory shad, and striped bass. [See “Harrison Lake national Fish Hatchery”, https://www.fws.gov/harrisonlake/ summary by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.]

But for now, the take-away lesson is an appreciation for mussels: they are a lot more important than most of us think they are.

Harrison-hatchery-fish-hosts-with-mussel-larvae.USFWS

Harrison Lake Nat’l Fish Hatchery: fish hosts carrying mussel larvae    (B. Davis / USF&WS photo)

But why are they, as Dr. Kreeger says, “precious”? Because God created them  —  it was God Who gave Chesapeake Bay mussels, as well as Texas riverine mussels, their intrinsic value.  As God’s creatures they display His workmanship – God’s creative bioengineering is exhibited (“plainly seen”) in all animals, including humble mussels.

Accordingly, as some of the many (albeit small and usually unseen) creatures whom God chose to create (and to “fill” diverse wetland habitats), mussels deserve due credit, for doing what God has programmed them to do, including filter-cleaning wetland waters.

So, good for the mussels, good for the water supply, and that’s all good for us —  and therefore we should give glory unto God, because God is due credit for making estuarial and river-dwelling mussels what they are.                               ><> JJSJ  profjjsj@aol.com



Dr. James J. S. Johnson freely admits that his appreciation for mussels did not begin with learning about how they contribute to filter-cleaning estuarial waters, but rather from his eating lots of tasty blue mussels when visiting New England.