NOT DEER OR BOVINE, SO IT MUST BE AN ‘ANTELOPE’

  NOT DEER OR BOVINE, SO IT MUST BE AN ‘ANTELOPE’

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg [dîshōn], and the wild ox, and the chamois.   (Deuteronomy 14:5)

Addax-Morocco.Haytem93-photo

ADDAX male [photo credit: Haytem93]

Most likely the “Pygarg” [dîshōn] is what today is called an ADDAX.  An ADDAX is a desert-dwelling member of the ANTELOPE family.  [See George Cansdale, ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS (Zondervan, 1976), page 85, saying “Among several quaint animal names found only in the AV [i.e., KJV] is the Pygarg, from Heb. dishon; this is merely a transliteration of the [LXX] Gr. Word meaning ‘white-rumped’, by which [Greeks] had long ago described an antelope. … [The reference in Deuteronomy 14:5] between two animals that are probably desert species, coupled with a long-standing tradition, suggests that this is the Addax, Addax nasomaculatus, a desert antelope classified between the oryx and hartebeests”.]antelope-family.jjsj-PPTslide

But, what is an antelope?

Antelope, and antelope-like animals, live in many different parts of the world—except not in Australia or Antarctica. For examples, pronghorns live mostly in America’s Western prairie states. The oryx live in Israel and many of the Arabian deserts.  The Dorcas gazelle lives in the top half of Africa.  Impalas live in eastern and southern Africa.

Serengeti-migraton-wildebeest-zebra.ZambesiSafari-photo

Wildebeests and Zebras migrate through Serengeti  /  Zambesi Safari photo

The blue wildebeest (also called “gnu”) are famous for their huge migratory herds, that often mix with zebras, that seasonally travel through Tanzania’s Serengeti.  Tibetan antelope, of course, live in Tibet, as well as in neighboring parts of Asia.  The Indian antelope (also called “blackbuck”) lives in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

GreatMigration-Serengeti.Pinterest

Great Migration (Serengeti & Masai Mara)  image credit: Pinterest

These plant-eating mammals (animals that give mother’s milk to their babies) are different from other four-legged mammals – such as deer, cattle, horses, camels, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and dogs.

In many ways antelope (and antelope-like animals, like the pronghorns of America’s prairies) are like deer. But unlike deer, which have antlers (that grow and shed each year, then regrow the next year, and are later shed, etc.), antelopes have horns (like cattle, bison, sheep, and goats), which continue to slowly grow out from their heads, anchored to bony roots.

Impala-w-oxpecker.jjsj-PPTslide

Antelopes often live in flat grasslands (such as the grassy prairies of America’s West), where their plant-food is plentiful. However, in grasslands there are usually very few trees, so antelopes cannot hide in forests from other animals (such as mountain lions or wolves), so it is good that God made them to have great speed for running across flat land.  And that is what antelopes (and pronghorns, which are antelope-like animals) often do–with great speed!–when they run away from predators at high speeds—sometimes as fast as 55 miles/hour for a mile, or 42 miles/hour for 2 miles, or 35 miles/hour for 3 miles.Gazelle-foraging.jjsj-PPTslide

Dorcas is the Greek word for a gazelle, which is a member of the antelope family. Because gazelles are graceful and beautiful animals it is unsurprising that girl babies have been named Dorcas, including one who is mentioned in Scripture, in Acts chapter 9.Dorcas-philology.jjsj-PPTslide

Dorcas-Acts-chapter9.jjsj-PPTslide

In North America the primary antelope-like mammal is the PRONGHORN. To learn about this beautiful, graceful, and extremely speedy animals, see “Geography Matters, Illustrated by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats, and Old Testament Warfare”, posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2016/08/17/geography-matters-illustrated-by-pronghorns-mountain-goats-and-old-testament-warfare/ .

pronghorn-coming-fast.closeup-turning

When we see beauty, grace, strength, and speed — displayed in antelope (and antelope-like pronghorns) — we are reminded, by these living exhibits of God’s making, that God Himself is amazingly beautiful, graceful, strong, and quick, beyond our comprehension.


 

What Are those Animals Called ‘Unicorns’ in the Bible?

rhino-Indian-1horned-in-wild

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? Or wilt thou leave thy labor to him?  Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?  (Job 39:9-12)

Rhino-1horned-Indian.WWF

What Are those Animals Called ‘Unicorns’ in the Bible?

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Scoffers are known to poke fun at Scripture’s mention (in the King James Bible) of “unicorns”, accusing the Bible of being “unscientific”.(1),(2)  Such pseudo-science ridicule is readily refuted, however, even when it’s uncertain which beast is represented by the English word “unicorn”.

The scoffer’s ridicule of “unicorns” (in Scripture) relies upon this flawed syllogism:

ASSUMPTION A: If the Bible is perfectly true it would not treat mythical animals as if they really exist.

ASSUMPTION B: The Bible treats “unicorns”, which are mythical beasts, as if they really exist.

INFERRED CONCLUSION: Therefore the Bible can’t be perfectly true and credible.

With that sophism scoffers giddily dismiss the Bible’s perfection. Of course, the entire mockery rests upon a Straw-man Fallacy(3) because scoffers presuppose that the term “unicorn” is the core controversy—yet the real question is whether or not the underlying Hebrew noun (re’ēm) refers to a real-world animal.(4)

Assumption A contains the Uniformitarian Fallacy,(3) by assuming the Hebrew noun re’ēm must match some animal alive today. However, in light of the inescapable reality that some animal varieties are going extinct, there is no reason why re’ēm must refer to a beast existing today.

Assumption B contains the Bait-and-Switch Fallacy,(3) by assuming thhe mythological beast called a “unicorn”, that exists in fairy tales (and Hollywood cartoons), must equal the Hebrew noun re’ēm that is referred to 9 times within the Old Testament.

Yet reviewing the relevant Biblical contexts (see below) shows re’ēm was a horned beast, like a wild ox or maybe a rhino — neither of which you would try to domesticate!

Furthermore, skeptics sometimes add a corollary assumption to buttress their ridicule of Scripture’s “unicorns”—acting as if their challenge cannot be refuted unless and until Christians positively identify a real-world “unicorn” (i.e., what the Hebrew Bible calls re’ēm), presuming that any doubt about the re’ēm’s taxonomic identity invalidates the Bible’s trustworthiness.(4)

However, refuting the skeptic does not require that “unicorns” be identified with certainty; it is enough to show that plausible solutions exist, proving that “unicorns” need not refer to “mythical” beasts. In fact, more than one plausible candidate (for the “unicorn”) exists—or previously existed(2)—as shown below.

Could the “unicorn” be a rhinoceros, especially a one-horned variety?

Most modern readers don’t know that the word “unicorn” formerly referred to a one-horned Rhinoceros. Consider, however, this is the primary definition of “UNICORN” in the 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s Dictionary:

UNICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.] 1. An animal with one horn; the Monoceros.  This name is often applied to the rhinoceros.(5)

The one-horned rhinoceros remains a plausible candidate for the horned beast that Moses (and other Hebrews) called re’ēm, of which there are living varieties:  Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus).(6)

Could the “unicorn” be a wild horned bovine, like aurochs or bison?

The presumed ancestor of domesticated bovines (including cattle, water buffalo, yak, zebu) is the now-extinct aurochs.(2) One of its kind is the inherently wild bison (a/k/a “buffalo”).(7) These wild beasts both have two horns (see Psalm 22:21; Deuteronomy 33:17), are built to be powerful (Numbers 23:22), and are biologically comparable to domesticated bovines (Psalm 29:6; Isaiah 34:7).  Harnessing such dangerous bovines, to plow a farm field’s furrows, would be a reckless undertaking, for any foolish farmer who might try it (see Job 39:9-10).

So, what does this prove? First, the skeptic’s Uniformitarian Fallacy guts his criticism of Job 39:9 (and other Scriptures that refer to re’ēm).  Second, the skeptic’s insistence that the English term “unicorn”, as used in the AD1611 King James Bible, equate to a spiral-cone-horned horse, is a bait-and-switch-facilitated strawman challenge, because there are plausible candidate, among real-world animals, that could fit the identity of the Scriptural re’ēm.  Consequently, the scoffer’s caricature of Biblical “unicorns” is not a genuine impeachment of the Bible’s verity.

Aurochs-looking-like-Bison

REFERENCES

(1)The King James Bible uses the English word “unicorn” in 9 Scripture passages: Numbers 23:22 & 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21 (v.22 in BH) & 29:16; Isaiah 34:7.

(2)Dr. Henry Morris, concluded that the “unicorn” (of Job 39:9) was a wild ox-like bovine, the aurochs, that became extinct: “The unicorn is supposedly a mythological animal; actually the creature referred to here is the extinct aurochs, or wild ox, a fierce animal that once inhabited this region. Many of the animals mentioned [in Job chapter 39], as well as other parts of the Old Testament, are of very uncertain identity, and various translators have tied them to a considerable diversity of modern animals. The probable reason for this uncertainty is that many of the animals, like the ‘unicorn’, are now extinct, because they could not long survive the drastically changed environments following the great Flood.” [Footnote to Job 39:9 in The New Defender’s Study Bible, page 822.]  Zoölogist George Cansdale concluded that re’ēm was the now-extinct aurochs. [George S. Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), page 82.]  The aurochs is depicted repeatedly on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, now relocated to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

(3)Regarding logical fallacies, James J. S. Johnson, “Staying on Track Despite Deceptive Distractions”, Acts & Facts, 41(5):9-11 (May 2012) (re straw-man fallacy, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/staying-track-despite-deceptive-distractions/ );  “Bait and Switch: A Trick Used by Both Anglerfish and Evolutionists”,  Acts & Facts, 41(1):10-11 (January 2012) (re bait-and-switch fallacy), posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/bait-switch-trick-used-by-both-anglerfish  );  “Is the Present the ‘Key’ to the Past?” Acts & Facts, 43(6):19 (June 2014, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/8165 ).

(4)A related inquiry is why Bible scholars, seeking to translate re’ēm into Greek, Latin, and English, used words like “unicorn” in their translations.  The Septuagint (“LXX”), a Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated re’ēm as monokerôs.  Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated re’ēm as rinocerotis in Deuteronomy 33:17 and rinoceros in Job 39:9, and unicornes in Isaiah 34:7!  This indicates that at least some translators though that re’ēm was one-horned,  perhaps the one-horned rhinoceros.

(5)Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education; 1995 facsimile of Noah Webster’s 1st edition of 1828), unpaginated.

(6)See Eric Dinerstein, The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (NY, NY: Columbia University Press, 2003).  Obviously the term “unicorn” is not a good fit for two-horned rhinos, such as the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), and Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).  But the Hebrew noun re’ēm, unlike the English word “unicorn”, does not require the beast to be one-horned, as is indicated by Deuteronomy 33:17 (which refers to unicorn “horns”, possibly denoting a two-horned rhino).  Some evolutionist paleontologists have expressed interesting (albeit forensically flawed) opinions about the ancestral rhino that they believe led to the “unicorns”.  [See Deng Tao, Wang ShiQi, & Hou SuKuan, “A Bizaree Tandem-horned Elasmothere Rhino from the Late Miocene of Northwestern China and the Origin of the True Elasmothere”, Chinese Science Bulletin, 58(15):1811-1817 (May 2013).]

(7)Another candidate is the one-horned Arabian oryx antelope, but its less-intimidating traits (compared to rhinos, bison, and aurochs) seem less likely to fit the Bible’s re’ēm.


rhino-1horned-closeup

Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies  [i.e., the Rock Hyrax of Israel  —  a lagomorph mammal with a lifestyle ecologically similar to that of the “rockchuck” (marmot) rodents of America’s western mountain states].   (Psalm 104:18)

Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

 Dr. James J. S. Johnson marmot-yellow-bellied-lowcrawling

What do we know, from the Holy Bible, about “marmots”, the herbivorous mammals we call “woodchucks” (or “groundhogs”) and “rockchucks”, other than that they were made on Day # 6, and that their ancestors were preserved during the global Flood by riding inside Noah’s Ark?

There is no specific mention in Holy Scripture, that designates the mammal family that we today call “marmots”, but the Scriptures do refer to rat-like rodents (‘achbarîm = “rats”) plaguing the idolatrous Philistines (see 1st Samuel chapters 5 & 6) —   plus another rodent (שָּׁפָן  = shaphan, the rock hyrax, less accurately known as “rock badger” or “coney”) that fills a marmot-like eco-niche in Israel:

 The rock hyraxes are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.  (Proverbs 30:26)

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the rock hyraxes. (Psalm 104:18)

Israel’s rock hyrax (שָּׁפָן) is categorized with other “lagomorph” mammals – like rabbits, hares, and pikas, —  as a creature that practice hindgut fermentation digestion (involving a reingestion process variously called “cæcotrophy”, “refection”, “cecophagy”, “coprophagia”, or reingesting “night feces”) —  yet these small lagomorphs do not have divided hooves:

 Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only have the hoof cloven: the camel, and the hare, and the rock hyrax, because they chew the cud [literally: they fetch up partially digested (“stirred”) food for re-chewing] but part not the hoof, they are unclean unto you.  (Deuteronomy 14:7). RockHyrax.on-rocks.png

These two Old Testament verses describe 3 important traits of the rock hyraxes — (1) physiologically, they practice hindgut fermentation “refection” (i.e., hindgut-facilitated re-digestion); (2) anatomically, they have undivided (i.e., un-split) hooves, and (3) ecologically, they make nests in rocky habitats. It is the third trait – making homes in rocky places – that is ecologically comparable to many “marmots” that inhabit rocky places outside of the Holy Land.[1]  However, as we shall see, some of the marmot family – groundhogs (a/k/a woodchucks or “whistle-pigs”) – are known to live in non-rocky habitats.

In fact, it is the groundhog (Marmota monax), under its nickname “woodchuck”, that gives rise to this tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could, if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

 Now, to introduce the “marmot” family, first consider that it is classified as a squirrel-like mammal (family Sciuridae), having many traits in common with various squirrel “cousins” (tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, etc.):

 SQUIRRELS:    Sciuridae    This [taxonomic] family includes a wide variety of [herbivorous] mammals. Marmots, woodchucks, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and tree squirrels all belong here.  They have 4 toes on front [feet], 5 on back [feet].  Tail is always covered with hair, [and] is sometimes bushy.  All are active during the daytime except the flying [i.e., gliding] squirrels, which come out only at night.  Marmots, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks all nest in burrows in the ground or beneath rocks or logs.  Tree squirrels and flying squirrels nest in trees.  Most of the ground-living species have a habit of sitting up “picket pin” fashion on their haunches.  This enables them to see over low vegetation and avert danger.  Ground squirrels and chipmunks have internal cheek pouches; most of them store food.

Quoting William H. Burt, A Field Guide to the Mammals, North America North of Mexico (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980; Peterson Field Guide Series), pages 90-91. In other words, marmots are a special category of large ground squirrels.

  woodchuck-pic-encycbritannica

WOODCHUCK  (a/k/a Groundhog & Canada marmot —  Marmota monax)

This term is used to describe the “groundhog” – the smallest variety of marmot – that habituates the eastern half of the United States, as well as much of the boreal forest of Canada – as the range map [from Wikipedia] below shows.

Woodchuck.RangeMap-Wikipedia.png Canadian mammalogists have described the common Woodchuck as follows:

 The Woodchuck is our smallest marmot. It has brown dorsal fur grizzled with silver-grey, and a reddish-brown ventral pelage.  The head is dark brown with no white markings on the face; the fur on the sides of the neck does not contrast sharply in colour with the fur on the flanks and back.  The front legs are covered with reddish-brown hairs; the dorsal surface of the hind feet is dark brown to nearly black.  The short, nearly flat, bushy tail varies from dark brown to blackish.  …  The posterior pad on the sole of the hind foot is oval in shape.  …  [Ecologically speaking, it habituates] valley bottoms, lowlands and the lower slopes of the mountains, … [living in] open forests, recently cleared forests, agricultural fields, meadows, ravines associated with streams and rivers, road embankments, and campgrounds. In agricultural areas, Woodchuck burrows are most concentrated in edge habitats bordering fields and cleared areas.  Its elevational range in British Columbia is from 350 to 1,250 metres [i.e., ~1,150 feet to ~4,100 feet].

Quoting David W. Nagorsen, Rodents and Lagomorphs of British Columbia (Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum, 2005; volume #4 in the Mammals of British Columbia series), page 136-137.

Groundhogs can reproduce quickly, like other rodents. That is helpful for maintaining Groundhog populations, because they are potential prey to several carnivorous predators, including wild canines (wolf, fox, coyote, dog), wild felines (cougar, bobcat, lynx), bears, and even large birds of prey (e.g., eagles).  Survival requires eating on a regular basis, of course, and groundhogs  — being mostly herbivorous – eat grasses of many types, as well as other lawn/meadow ground cover (e.g., clover, dandelions, alfalfa), berries, and even some agricultural crops.  Not completely herbivorous, Groundhogs will sometimes eat insects (grasshoppers, insect larvae, etc.), even snails or nuts.

woodchuck-aka-groundhog-by-tree  Groundhog burrows often have two (or more – maybe 5 or 10!) openings, a main entrance and a “spy hole”, as well as tunnels to the various entrances (to escape predatory home invaders). These underground dens serve various functions – climate control during winter hibernation months, safe haven form hungry carnivores, and various aspects of active family life.  Groundhogs even dig themselves an outhouse-like “excrement chamber”, separate from the “nest” quarters of the burrow.  Tunnelings near the surface can be annoying to human homeowners and farmers, depending upon the “environmental impact” of the Groundhog’s diggings.

The Groundhog has his own seasonal holiday in America (“Groundhog Day”), called Grundsaudaag or Murmeltiertag in Pennsylvania Dutch/German, and called Jour de la Marmotte in Canadian French.

Traditionally this special day is celebrated on February 2nd of each year – and its purpose is to predict whether spring will “come early” or not, i.e., to indicate if springtime-like weather will arrive before the vernal (spring) equinox, after which day the daylight hours “grow” and the nighttime hours “shrink”. So how do we “know” when spring weather will arrive?  If it is a cloudy day on February 2nd – when the groundhog emerges from his hibernation den – the woodchuck cannot see his shadow. For some (unexplained) reason the cloud-cover-prevented shadow is supposed to herald spring weather before the vernal equinox.  Contrariwise, if February 2nd is a sunny day – in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – the den-emerging groundhog should see his shadow (due to sunlight being intense enough to cast shadows), forecasting the marmot’s retreat-back-into-the-burrow, symbolizing that more winter weather is coming (and that spring weather will be delayed for another 6 more weeks). Some have said that this predictive “test” is accurate from 3/4 to 9/10 of the time – but others say this is accurate only about 4/10 of the time.  Groundhogs, being apolitical creatures (so far as we can tell), have indicated no official position about the truth or falsity of any supposed “global warming” crisis. groundhogday-cartoon-pic

(Interestingly this tradition was the inspiration for a uniquely Texas “holiday”, “Armadillo Day”, but that’s another “story” not to be covered here!)

In regions west, i.e., mostly west of the Groundhog’s usual habitat regions, many of its “cousins” live in higher elevations, in or near ranges of the Rocky Mountains (or Cascade Mountains). Rockchuck-aka-Marmot.in-rocks.jpg ROCKCHUCK  (various western marmots of North America  —  Marmota species, including the Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), as well as its western “cousins, such as the Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata), the Olympic Marmot (Marmota olympus), and the Vancouver Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Unsurprisingly, the name “rockchuck” refers to the rodent’s observable habitat  —  this variety of marmot is found in America’s Great West, especially in (though not limited to) the rocky timberline elevations of America’s Rocky Mountains, where alpine meadow vegetation suffices for such herbivores.

marmot-colorado-on-rocks

Rockchucks are social creatures, living near one another, and the nickname “whistler” (or “whistle-pig”) refers to their practice of whistling alarm when danger approaches. The rockchuck prefers “flight” to “fight” – scurrying for cover inside a rocky hideaway, if a potential predator is perceived as too close.  Some rockchucks, however, have become accustomed to peaceful tourists — and may even approach humans in hope of food, such as a salty PAYDAY candy bar![2]

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT  (rockchuck mother and her nursing pups)

Of the western marmots the Yellow-bellied Marmot is the most populous. Its range stretches from as far south as the Sangre de Cristo Range (in New Mexico and Colorado) up into Canada.  Yellow-bellied Marmots reside as far east as parts of South Dakota and the western edge of Nebraska, and as far west as all but the coastal edge of Washington and Oregon, even inhabiting small edges of California. marmot-yellowbellied-rangemap

This variety of rockchuck lives near timberline in the western states of America, yet in Canada it lives at lower elevations (e.g., < 1300 meters in British Columbia).

HOARY MARMOT  (a/k/a “mountain whistler” — Marmota caligata)

Another variety of rockchuck is the Hoary Marmot, famous (as its name suggests) for its “senior citizen” hair color, i.e., its fur is dominated by silver-grey.  Hoary marmots tend to live in mountainous places  — but only in America’s northwest corner (i.e., Idaho, Montanan, and Washington), plus montane lands in western Canada and Alaska, north of that corner.  This is the “extra-large”-sized marmot. Marmot-on-rock.closeup.jpg

Perhaps this tongue-twister could be used for the Groundhog’s western cousins:

How much rock would a rockchuck rock, if a rockchuck could rock rock?

But marmots don’t “rock” rocks!  However, being rodents, with ever-growing front teeth, rockchucks might use a somewhat-flat rock as the equivalent of an emery board – to file down his teeth! Maybe doing so provides access to rock-borne minerals that the marmot needs.  Anyway, marmot teeth should be respected, especially by mountain hikers who take naps at timberline.   ><> JJSJ

marmot-front-teeth-closeup


[1] Notice that the Rock Hyrax of Israel is a lagomorph that behaves, ecologically speaking, like the rodents that we call marmots (i.e., rockchucks and woodchucks). This illustrates how animal ecology does not slavishly follow taxonomy.

 Biomes … have animals which occupy particular roles within the ecosystem, tapping particular environmental resources.  These may differ very considerably in their taxonomy from one part of the world to another, but are nevertheless ‘ecological equivalents’.  For example, the South American pampas is grazed by the guanaco [a camel-like mammal], which is the [ecological] equivalent to the Australian kangaroo [a marsupial mammal], the Asiatic ass [an equid mammal] and the North American bison [a bovine mammal] in that it is a relatively large, fast-moving herbivorous animal living in herds.

Quoting Peter D. Moore, “The World’s Biomes”, in The Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox Books, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 40.

[2] Many years ago this author was hiking up Horn Peak (in the Colorado portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost sub-range of the Rocky Mountains). Horn Peak’s elevation is listed as 13,450 feet (4100 meters), slightly above Little Horn Peak (elevation: 13,143 feet/4006 meters).  On a group hike I tired above Little Horn Peak but below the summit of Horn Peak.  Thoroughly exhausted – crawl, rest, crawl, rest, crawl, rest, rest some more – I lay down on the ground for a shut-eye/nap, covering my face with a sweaty (and therefore salty) cloth handkerchief, to avoid getting my face sun-burned while I dozed.  (Having told other hikers what I was doing, as they continued to ascend to the summit, I requested that I be awakened by them on their return trek, as I expected them to return to where I was on their descent, later.  After sleeping for an unknown amount of time I was awakened by someone removing the white handkerchief form my face – it was the up-close face of a Yellow-bellied Marmot!  (I screamed: “What are you doing?” – forgetting that marmots don’t speak English.)  I was rattled!  I had scared the marmot (who perhaps was attracted to the salt on my sweaty handkerchief), but only momentarily.  The marmot gingerly wandered back closer to me, looking at me expectantly – apparently other hikers had given snack food to this marmot, and he was expecting me to do the same.  All that I had remaining, then, of my trail snacks, was a PAYDAY candy bar – a treat composed of peanuts, caramel, and salt – which he gulped down instantly!

payday-candybar

 

SEA OTTERS: Marine Mustelids with an Appetite!

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.  And God created great whales, 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 1:20-21)

Sea Otters:   Marine Mustelids with an Appetite!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

 SeaOtter.floating.png

Sea Otters are surely the cutest marine mammals who live in the seawaters off Alaska’s southern coastlines – they float on their backs, their whiskery faces look wise and kind, sometimes they hold hands (paws), and they care for each other.

The Northern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) is the only true “marine mustelid” – i.e., it is a member of the category of mammals called mustelids (the weasel super-family), all the other of which live mostly on land, even its “cousin” the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis).   It is the smallest of marine mammals – much smaller than cetaceans (such as whales) and pinnipeds (such as walrus and seals) – with male adults weighing from about 80 to 100 pounds, and female adults weighing about 50 to 70 pounds.  Unlike other weasel-like mammals, Sea Otters live in seawater – even giving birth in seawater!

Sea Otters, unlike blubbery whales and walruses, are relatively thin – yet they need to survive the super-cold waters that blubber-loaded marine mammals live in. How do the Sea Otters do it? Unlike pinnipeds and cetaceans, sea otters have no blubber, so their fur must keep them warm.

SeaOtter-fur.magnified-view.png

Sea otter fur is the densest of all mammals (almost 1,000,000 strands of hair/square inch!), consisting of waterproof exterior “guard hairs” over a dense layer of dry underfur, so it insulates from environmental temperature extremes:  “air trapped in its fine fur keeps it warm as well as buoyant.”  [Quoting John Whitaker, Jr., National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals (1998), page 786.] Unlike animals that periodically “molt” (like birds and reptiles), sea otter fur is shed gradually, year-round.  To stay warm in the super-cold waters off Alaska’s southern coasts, Sea Otters rely on more than their providentially thick fur, they also eat often and a lot – they have a high metabolism!

As a carnivore, the Sea Otter eats mostly animals – including clams, sea worms, squid, octopus, abalone, sea urchin, starfish, and crabs (especially Dungeness Crabs). However, Sea  Otters  consume  so  many  Dungeness crabs,  so  quickly, that  southern Alaska’s  crab  fishermen  are  losing  out – so not everyone thinks of Sea Otters as being “cute”.

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Some shellfish are hard to eat, due to tough exoskeleton shells, but Sea Otters are up to the task – they use rocks to crack open clam shells, or abalone shells – sometimes using a rock as an anvil.  Diving Sea Otters also use rocks to dislodge shellfish (such as clams or mussels) that are firmly attached to an underwater substrate.

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Sea Otters are so intelligent, learning to adapt to new information, that they have been observed ripping open metal drink cans, in search of juvenile octopus, because they have learned that small octopuses often use metal drink cans (discarded by human litterbugs in Alaska’s coastal waters) as hiding-places, similar to how hermit crabs will “recycle” uninhabited shells.

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In fact, God has designed anatomical “pockets” for carrying both rocks and food items, when a Sea Otter is diving underwater.   Sea  otters  have  loose  armpit  skin (a “pouch”),  for  carrying food, or rocks  (thus  freeing  up  their  “hand” paws)  to  use  as anvils  (when  they crack  open  sea urchins or bivalves, like  clams  and limpets and  mussels).  Webbed  hind  paws  are  useful  for  swimming  and  diving, sometimes  150 feet  deep,  to  collect  their  underwater  prey.

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The underwater brown kelp “seaweed forest”  is  a favorite   habitat  for  hunting  food.  Sea Otters not only find food in the underwater kelp “forests”, they protect the kelp – by eating Sea Urchins, because Sea Urchins can quickly decimate kelp forests if no Sea Otters are available to keep the Sea Urchin population in check.  Sea Otters also make use of kelp seaweed in another way – they wrap themselves in the seaweed, and become secured in place as if wearing a floating “seatbelt”, while they float in tidewater, asleep.  Securely tied to the anchored seaweed, the Sea Otters (who are “belted” in for a nap) will not be washed out to deep seawaters by the tides.

In other words, the relationship of Sea Otters to giant kelp (i.e., brown algae seaweed) is one of “mutual aid”, because both kelp and otter populations benefit from their interactions with each other. SeaOtter-seaweed-seatbelt.png

Where does the Sea Otter usually live? Its primary range covers the coastal tidewaters of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands archipelago chain, plus its south-central and southeastern coastlines, down the Canada’s British Columbia coasts, even to the Pacific coastline of the State of Washington.         ><> JJSJ


Dr. James J. S. Johnson’s background includes a love for animal ecology and the colder climates of the world. In addition to his (current) creation science education-focused work for ICR-SOBA, he has taught bioscience/ecology courses for Dallas Christian College and ACSI, written ecology-related curriculum for LeTourneau University, and served as lecturer aboard 9 international cruise ships, including 4 cruise ships  visiting  Alaska  (Norwegian Wind, Norwegian Sky,  Radiance of the Seas,  Rhapsody of the Seas).

seaotter-pair-in-icy-water

 

MOLES: Digging for the Glory of God

In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats, … for fear of the Lord ….” (Isaiah 2:20-21a).

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MOLES:   DIGGING  FOR  THE  GLORY  OF  GOD

James J. S. Johnson

The day will come, before Messiah (Jesus) returns in power and judgment, when God-rejecting idolaters will cower in fear, trying to hide in the earth, knowing that their accountability is ripe: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats, … for fear of the Lord ….” (Isaiah 2:20-21a). The English word “mole” (in KJV) is a translation of the Hebrew noun chapharpêrâh, derived from the verb châphar, meaning “to dig” – and digging is what moles are best known for doing.   (For illustrations of the Hebrew verb châphar, “to dig”, see Genesis 21:30 &  Ecclesiastes 10:8.)

How do moles dig?

“The mole excavates its burrow by backward strokes and lateral thrusts of the front feet.  Loose earth is moved and pushed to the surface by thrusts of the front feet.  In excavating shallow runs, the mole merely pushes up the earth to form a ridge, again by lateral thrusts of the front feet while the mole is turned partly on its side.” [Quoting David J. Schmidly, THE MAMMALS OF TEXAS (Univ. of Texas Press, 2004), page 60.]

Who taught the mole to do such underground digging, and to do it so successfully that moles live all over much of America? Who equipped the mole with the anatomy it needs to do this subterranean work?

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Those who intelligently design and/or carefully operate oil-drilling equipment can appreciate the digging powers of moles, because digging underground is an art! Innovative petroleum engineers deserve to be appreciated for their underground earth-burrowing technology.  If you think serious underground digging is “simple” try drilling for oil  —  or try to mine out minerals from under the earth!

But oil-drilling equipment cannot reproduce itself into generation-after-generation families of their kind – yet moles reproduce successfully, all around America, and we don’t notice or appreciate it. God, however, deserves praise for equipping the humble mole for its down-to-earth (or rather, down-under-the-earth) station in life.

Moles are created to dig and they do – to God’s glory! Their Creator is worthy of worship (Revelation 4:11).  Idolatry is foolish; we should avoid it in whatever form it appears (1st John 5:21), as we seek to harness each day as a day of worshipping our soon-coming Lord Jesus, the Maker of Heaven and Earth (John 1:3).   ><> JJSJ

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Dr. James J. S. Johnson, as a boy, learned to recognize the surface evidence of moles’ shallow burrowing.   Since his boyhood he has tried to appreciate the human life God gave him, and to recognize what God prioritizes  –  so as to avoid “making mountains out of molehills”.

POLAR BEARS: ROUGH, TOUGH, AND COOL

POLAR  BEARS:  ROUGH,  TOUGH,  AND  COOL

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly. (Proverbs 17:12)

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What are Polar Bears like? Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) are often called “white bears” because their fur looks like a slightly yellowish white. Designed for a polar lifestyle, a Polar Bear has small rounded ears, a muscular hump behind his or her neck, large claws on each of its large paws, and huge and powerful body.  Its large furry feet are well-designed for walking on snow and ice.  Its amazing fur is perfect for insulating the bear’s body from the super-cold temperatures (and freezing winds) of the polar North.

Are Polar Bears “marine mammals” or “land mammals”? Or should they be called “ice bears”? Polar bears routinely live on sea ice for months, and can swim (“dog paddle” style) for days – one did so for 9 days!  Where do they live?  The icy cold waters of the Arctic Ocean are the primary home range of the Polar Bear, especially in many ice floes that float about the saltwater, as well as the coastlands that touch those waters.  They can smell seals a mile away or buried under 3 feet of snow.  They have good ears and eyes.   (Sometimes they stand, to see distant objects better.)

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Although floating ice is their “principal place of business”, polar bears are at home hunting on land (and swimming in the ocean).

How are Polar Bears as different from other bears? Unlike the dish-faced profile of a Brown Bear (such as a “Grizzly”), the Polar Bear’s head shape is more straight-faced, like a Black Bear, yet is ears as smaller, so its overall head-muzzle shape is slightly more longish and cone-shaped than that of a Black Bear.  Also, unlike the high shoulder hump of a Brown Bear (including that of a “Grizzly”), the rump of a Polar Bear, like that of a Black Bear, is the highest part of the bear’s body, when walking on all four paws (as opposed to when standing or walking on two feet, like a human – which all bears can do, but usually do not do).  The diet of the Polar Bear is different, too, because it is meat almost all the time—though it can and will eat berries and other foods when convenient.  Black Bears and Brown Bears are more omnivorous (eating a mix of animal flesh and plant food, such as berries, mushrooms, acorns, flowers, pine cones, and roots)—although they certainly enjoy fresh meat when it is available, especially fish (as Alaska’s Brown Bear population is famous for its “all-you-can-eat” fishing).

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How are Polar Bears similar to other bears? Genetically speaking, all true bears are part of the same biogenetic family.   This includes the Brown Bear, the Black Bear, and the Polar Bear – as well as the Sun Bear, Sloth Bear, Spectacled Bear (but does not include the so-called “Panda Bear”).  One illustration of this hybridization was reported in National Geographic magazine, by John Roach:

Last week, DNA analysis confirmed that the bear’s father was a grizzly and his mother was a polar bear [Ursus maritimus]. … Fossil evidence of prehistoric polar bears is difficult to find, because polar bear ancestors lived in conditions that were poor for bone preservation, [David] Paetkau [of Wildlife Genetics Int’l] says. But the two species probably diverged ‘less than a million years ago’.   By contrast, North American black bears [Ursus americanus] and grizzly bears [Ursus arctos] diverged about five million years ago, he says. … On the other hand, the warming Arctic environment is causing some animals to shift their range northward. It’s possible, Paetkau says, that grizzly bears and polar bears may have more offspring-producing encounters in the future.

Quoting John Roach, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (May 16, 2006 issue).  In other words, all true bears descend from a pair of bears that survived the global Flood aboard Noah’s Ark.  Accordingly, they can interbreed, genetically, and sometime do – either in the wild, or in captivity, or both. PolarBear-head-above-seawater.png

How do newborn Polar Bear babies survive the harsh sub-freezing temperatures of the polar North?

Dens offer pregnant [polar bear] females protection from the cold and predators while they give birth and rear their cubs. The temperature inside a [polar bear] den is often just below freezing [!] and fluctuates much less than outside temperature. The temperature inside a den can be 38°F (21°C) warmer than outside, and the warmth reduces energy use, which is important for small cubs and for females without access to food.

Quoting Andrew Derocher, Polar Bears: Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2012), p. 155, as quoted in James J. S. Johnson, “Why We Want to Go Home”, Acts & Facts, 44(4):20 (April AD2015), posted at www.icr.org/article/why-we-want-go-home .

Although baby polar bears are conceived during spring, the uterine implantation of bear embryos (like those of other bears, as well as mustelids and seals) is delayed until autumn (when mama bears enter their “maternity ward” dens), ensuring that the births, about 2 months later, occur in winter (i.e., during hibernation), so that the family’s den exodus is timed for spring (months later), when food availability is optimal, and when the infants are developed enough to travel to, and onto, sea ice.  (See Andrew Derocher, Polar Bears, pages 172-173.)

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Blue whales at birth are about 2% of their mother’s weight, humans about 6%, bats around 30%, and some rodents over 50%. Each polar bear cub is only 0.2% to 0.3% of its mother’s mass. Polar bear cubs at birth are extremely small relative to the size of their mother. A cub weighs about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) while its mother can easily top 440 to 660 pounds (200-300 kg).

Quoting Derocher, Polar Bears: Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior, page 177.

In other words, Polar Bear babies are quite tiny compared to their mamas; in fact, amazingly (when you consider the growth they are designed for) they are even tiny compared to human babies! Compared to Polar Bear newborns, human newborns have birth weights that are about 5 times heavier!

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Since polar bear cubs are born so small, after the protein-loaded antibody-rich colostrum, they need super-rich “get-fat-quick” milk to grow!

Polar bear milk … can be 46% fat. Fat content declines as cubs get older … as low as 5% just before the mother stops producing milk [~ 2.5 years after birth]. Protein content varies from 5% to 19%; sugars can constitute 6%. Minerals make up less than 2% of the milk, which has a variety of vitamins including A, B, D, and E.

Polar bear milk … is low in lactose (a sugar) but high in specialized sugars called oligosaccharides … [which] have an antibacterial role.

[Quoting Andrew Derocher, Polar Bears, p. 180.]

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After being weaned from Mama’s milk, what is the favorite food of a Polar Bear? Seals!  Especially Polar Bears are known for eating seals – especially Ringed Seals (Pusa hispida) and Bearded Seals (Erignathus barbatus). To do this they must learn to hunt, ranging the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean, and sometimes ranging on land, or swimming in the ocean.  But, thanks to God’s caring bioengineering, Polar Bears are designed for trekking long distance on slippery ice—their feet (paws) are a perfect fit for their icy habitat.

Microscopic examination of polar bear feet reveals their ice-handling design features. It turned out that the pads of a polar bear’s foot are covered with small soft papillae [small bumps], which increase friction between the foot and the ice. There are also small depressions in the sole….

[Quoting Ian Stirling, Polar Bears (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998), page 25, as quoted in Brian Thomas, “Beetles and Bears Inspire Technologies”, ICR News, posted 2-26-AD2016.]

Polar bears, eating blubber-loaded seals (as they try to store fat and protein for the coming winter), like to “pig out” –  they can eat 20% of their body weight in one meal!   (Calculate what 20% pf your body weight would be!)  Males often weigh 700-1800 pounds; females ~ ½ that, at 350-1000 pounds!

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Polar bears are happy to eat humans, too, if they can get at them! How emphatically, therefore, the Scriptures caution against meeting a “fool in his folly”:

Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly. (Proverbs 17:12)

Does anyone eat Polar Bears? Actually, yes, though usually it is the Polar Bear that is the predator!  When desperate enough, humans have been known to hunt and kill—and eat (!)—Polar Bears.

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In one famous situation of shipwrecked sailors, in Svalbard (a small group of islands north of Russia), sailors ate ten of them!

In 1743 a Russian ship bound for Arctic walrus-hunting grounds was blown off course and trapped in ice off the coast of Svalbard … Four sailors [who faithfully prayed, as Russian Orthodox ‘Old Believers’, to God for His providential care] went shore with only two days’ supplies to look for an abandoned hut they knew about on the island.

[Quoting David Roberts, Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World (2003), intro.]  The stranded Russians weathered a stormy night in the hut.  When they returned, to where the ship had been, the ship and its icepack were both gone, apparently blown out to sea and destroyed by the storm.  To survive there, for 6+ years, they made spears, bows and arrows, from driftwood, eventually killing 250 animals to eat, including 10 polar bears, some arctic foxes, and many caribou, plus scurvy grass.  The one sailor who refused to eat scurvy grass died (you guessed it – he died of scurvy).  The other 3 survived, thankfully, to be eventually rescued during AD1749, by another off-course Russian ship of “Old Believers”.

On the other side of the (polar North) world, Alaskan Eskimos have hunted Polar Bears, for many centuries, sometimes with success—even using bow and arrows!

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Much more could (and should) be said—and appreciated—about that amazing ice-floe-trekking carnivore of the super-cold North, the Polar Bear. But for now, as you consider the meat-and-blubber-hungry habits of the ravenous Polar Bear, be thankful that God did not make you an Arctic Ocean-dwelling seal—who must surface through an “ice hole”, periodically, for air.) Because sometimes more than breathable air awaits a  vulnerable seal, just above the surface!  Yikes!

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In other words, be glad that the Lord made you exactly whom you are (Psalm 102:18), with a life of blessings in the present (Acts 14:17), plus a wonderful future, so long as you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 10:20)!    ><>  JJSJ


Dr. James J. S. Johnson’s background includes a love for animal ecology and the colder climates of the world. In addition to his (current) creation science education-focused work for ICR-SOBA, he has taught bioscience/ecology courses for Dallas Christian College and ACSI, written ecology-related curriculum for LeTourneau University, and served as lecturer aboard 9 international cruise ships, including 4 cruise ships  visiting  Alaska  (Norwegian Wind, Norwegian Sky,  Radiance of the Seas,  Rhapsody of the Seas).

HARBOR SEALS: Swimming, Diving, Guided by Super-Sensitive Whiskers

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

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

Those who fish at sea, and other who “go down to the sea in ships”, have many occasion to see God’s “wonders in the deep”.  All creatures of the oceans and their coast-waters fit that category – because all such sea creatures, by their very lives and life cycles, are “wonders” in water, who give witness of God’s glory and providence, showcasing the amazing Creator He is.  One such example of is the Harbor Seal.

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The HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina), known in Great Britain as the “Common Seal”, is a creature well-known to the Vikings of old, as is documented below.  These fine-finned marine mammals are impressive (if not peerless) swimmers and divers, and they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (warm, lukewarm, cool, and super-cold!).  And, thanks to the super-sensitive whiskers that God designed and installed upon them, Harbor Seals know just where to go, as they chase fleeing fish!

Harbor Seals are the world’s most common temperate-water seal, often found along the temperate water coastlines (and continental shelves) of the Northern Hemisphere – in both the northern Atlantic and northern Pacific Oceans, and in coastal estuaries, and sometimes even as far south as Portugal! Oddly, one subspecies (Phoca vitulina mellonae) lives only in freshwater.

Seals were well-known for their swimming skill, as is illustrated by the following quotation from an old Viking saga: “There was a man whose name was Gunnar [Hamondsson] … a tall man in growth, and a strong man – best skilled in arms of all men. He could cut or thrust or shoot if he chose, as well with his left as with his right hand, and he smote so swiftly with his sword, that three [swords] seemed to flash through the air at once. He was the best shot with the bow of all men, and his arrows never missed their mark. … He could swim like a seal [emphasis added], and there was no game in which it was any good for anyone to strive with him; and so it has been said that no man was his match….

[Quoting from Chapter 19, NJAL’S SAGA. See, accord, Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Pálsson, NJAL’S SAGA (New York: Penguin Classics, 1982).]   Vikings, including Gunnar’s Icelander contemporaries, were obviously impressed with the superlative swimming skills of seals!

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As a marine mammal, the Harbor Seal is a “pinniped” – i.e., it has fins, not feet. Also, it is earless (i.e., bearing no external ears) and carnivorous (eating animals of the sea). Being mammals, the seal mothers (“cows”) breastfeed their children (“pups”), as do mothers of all mammal species. Regarding size, the adult Harbor Seal ranges from 5 to 6 feet long, with bulls (males) a bit larger than cows). Body weight can approach 375 pounds!

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The Harbor Seal’s four flippers are ideal for swimming (as well as for diving and surfacing), and are not designed for a lot of “shore duty” walking, so seals move on land by undulating, like a caterpillar. These flippers have webbed digits – like finders or toes blended together – which can be used to scratch, groom, or provide defensive movements – and they stroke powerfully for precision swimming.

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But daily life, for a harbor Seal, is not all about swimming – they often “haul out” on shoreline or harbor-water rocks (or sandy beaches), to rest, to bask, to molt, to nurse babies, to give birth, and even to congregate with other seals for defense (e.g., against predators who cannot leave the seawater, such as orcas, a/k/a killer whales). Mother seals usually nurse their suckling pups at low tide. Ironically, seal reproduction occurs at sea. Like humans, seal gestation lasts for about nine months; after birth, on shore, lactation lasts for about 4 to 6 weeks, with the birth weight of baby pups (as much as 35 pounds) doubling (i.e., to as much as 70 pounds) by the time they are weaned off their mother’s fat-rich milk. Within hours of being born the seal pups can dive and swim – and their future lives will continue that habit for years to come.

When it comes to life at sea – and the Harbor Seal’s true home is the water – the pinnipeds display their Creator’s design-bioengineering to imagination-stretching levels (or depths!). Although Harbor Seals sometimes sleep on land, they can even sleep in the water, subconsciously surfacing for air as needed. Diving, and swimming, underwater, is a seal’s quintessential element – whether that be in the ocean, an estuarial bay (i.e., “harbor”), or some freshwater river flowing into the sea.

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These seals can dive even more than a half-mile deep, when searching for food, and can remain underwater for about 40 minutes (though most dives last only around 5 minutes) – then they must return to the surface, to replenish their air for breathing. When seals dive into the ocean, their God-given interactive sensor-systems (which measure oxygen levels) and pre-programmed instincts adjust their physiology to their underwater diving needs.

When the seal’s face is submerged, it automatically holds its breath, its heartbeat slows by up to 90% and its blood circulation is reduced, except to the most vital organs, the heart and brain. … The dive reflex is responsible for the seal’s ability to remain submerged for long periods. The harbor seal breathes out before diving, reducing its buoyancy. Also, the harbor seal has a very high blood / volume ratio, about 1.5 times that of a human. This allows a large amount of oxygen to be carried in the bloodstream instead of the lungs. The harbor seal has high myoglobin levels, allowing high levels of oxygen to be carried in the bloodstream and tissues, about 2.5 times that of a human.

[Quoting from AquaFacts: Harbour Seals (Phoca vitulina), posted by Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center, 2005, pages 1-4, citing Steve Kleene’s “A Medical Marvel: the Diving Seal”, SEA FRONTIERS, 35:370-374 (Nov.-Dec. 1989).

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Even the sea’s whiskers help – the nerves inside seal whiskers help sense underwater pressure changes; the whisker nerves trigger internal physiology adjustments that are needed to optimally respond to those changing underwater pressures.

When waters are murky, how do seals find fish? They don’t have a sonar apparatus like whales, and yet they somehow hunt successfully in the dark.

It turns out that the seals follow fish trails by sensing very subtle water pressure changes with their whiskers. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, investigators trained harbor seals to give a visual signal indicating the direction of a “swimming” rubber fin that mimicked a fish. They then blindfolded and placed headphones on the seals to test their ability to hunt without sight or sound cues.

Not only were the seals able to detect the “fish’s” movements, their whiskers may be able to distinguish even more precise information than just their prey’s whereabouts. Senior author Wolf Hanke of the Marine Science Centre at the University of Rostock, Germany, told BBC News, “They seem to be able to discriminate between different shapes, which might even mean they discriminate between different species of fish.”

The authors found evidence that the seals track the direction that a fish swims by sensing its underwater wakes, or trails of slightly disturbed water, that linger for up to 35 seconds. To do this, seals detect and interpret “the structure and spatial arrangement of the vortices” that spin off from a fish’s underwater trail.

Not only can seals detect the vortices, but they can sense the “high water velocities” behind a swimming fish even after the fish is long gone. Water that trails a fish flows just a little faster than the surrounding waters. Somehow, the seal must automatically subtract the resistance caused by its own motion through the water in order calculate the exact location of its moving dinner. …
The best explanation for the origin of these complex creatures remains the one presented in Genesis–that on the fifth day of creation, God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life,” and it was so [Genesis 1:20].

[Quoting Brian Thomas, “Seal Whiskers Track Fish Trails”, ICR News (June 22, 2010), citations omitted here, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/seal-whiskers-track-fish-trails/  .]

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As warm-blooded mammals, Harbor Seals need to burn food energy to keep warm. Blubber helps to insulate the seal’s core but food energy is a must, constantly! So, to maintain their body temperature, especially while they swim in super-frigid seawaters, they must eat a lot – and they are habitually hungry!

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Harbor Seals frequently feast on cod, sea bass, mackerel, anchovy, whiting, herring, hake, sole, flounder, some crustaceans (including crabs and shrimps), small-sized octopus or squid, sometimes salmon or trout, or maybe even a sea-duck – eating about 5% of their body weight each day! Humans (like me) can enjoy a similar “marine platter”, but not in the large portions that adult seals voraciously consume, to fuel their minimum daily nutrition requirements! (To compare seal appetites to your own metabolic habits, multiple your own body weight by 5%, then imagine eating that much each day!)

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Harbor Seals don’t really “chew” their food, though – rather, they bite and they tear, they crush with their molars, then they quickly swallow whatever meat they eat.  Perhaps a fitting greeting to a Harbor Seal would be “Bon appetit!  But seals have a right to be hungry, and to eat a lot, because God made them to operate that way – they have a lot of work to do, as they eat and swim and dive, always displaying God’s marvelous bioengineering !

O LORD, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.   (Psalm 104:24-25)

[An earlier version of this article appeared as “Harbour Seal: Nordic Natural Heritage (Spotlighting Amazing Creatures of the Vikings’ Natural World)”, in Viking History & Heritage Review, January AD2005 issue, pages 4-6.]
><>  JJSJ

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