There is a tremendous variety of life in the world. Few of us can identify all of the birds that soar above us, the flowers and grasses that spring forth from the fertile ground, or the 850,000 identified species of insects (the largest single group of extant organisms). The creatures in the seas, however, have fascinated us perhaps more than any other living creatures. Fifteen hundred years before Christ was born, Moses recorded that God had created the oceans and seas with “an abundance of living creatures” (Genesis 1:20). We had no idea just how accurate that statement was until the science of oceanography (and, more specifically, the science of marine biology) came into its own. Once we developed not just the desire to study the Earth’s oceans and seas, but also the technology to master them, it became apparent to us that most of the world’s species of animals live in the water, not on dry land. And many of them certainly rank among the most intriguing!
The oceans teem with extraordinary and wondrous organisms that variously fill us with awe, engulf us with terror, or leave us struggling to find adequate terms to describe their innate beauty. From the largest creature ever to inhabit the Earth (the blue whale—which has a heart the size of a small car!), to the tiniest zooplankton, we often find ourselves filled with astonishment at the extraordinary niches they inhabit, the amazing tasks they perform, and the intricate design they exhibit.
For example, squids manufacture and expel ink. Various species of eels generate electricity. Octopi use undulating tentacles to ensnare prey. Eagle rays dip their wing-like pectoral fins into the mud while using suction to pull out clams. Some mussels produce powerful chemicals that “drill” out holes in hard coral for a habitation. Dolphins use sonar to communicate. And so on (see Macquitty, 2000, pp. 10,25,29,33).
Can you imagine a fish that looks like a horse—but swims like a submarine? God apparently did—and then created the “stallion of the sea”—the superb sea horse. These peculiar “horses,” however, do not gallop gracefully through a flowering valley, drink from a long wooden trough, or journey across the dusty, remote trails under a magnificent, vibrant sunset. Rather, these horses stylishly swim within the kelp-filled meadows of the sea.
The head of a chess piece, the tail of a monkey, a rigid body that seems to be carved from wood, eyes like a chameleon, and a father who becomes pregnant—all of these describe the unique sea horse, which, oddly enough, does not resemble a fish in any way (see Parker, p. 22). There are about 35 identified species of “ocean equines,” the largest of which easily can grow to be a foot in length. They live in tepid, shallow seacoasts, and forcefully resist strong currents by grasping tightly to objects. They grip so tightly with their prehensile tails that it is difficult to get them to let go (“Sea Horse,” 1991, p. 342). While sea horses are fish, they have skin, rather than the typical scales. That skin, which is tightly yet carefully stretched over numerous sharp, bony plates, produces growths to match surrounding vegetation. Although the sea horse does not possess teeth or a stomach, it “inhales” small, tough crustaceans and sluggish pieces of floating matter through its elongated, pipe-like snout.
For fish like these, which subsist in weeds and eat plankton, being able to maintain a fixed position, and blend in with their environment, are essential survival skills. Sea horses swim uprightly, propelled by a strong, waving dorsal fin. The small pectoral fins help steer the direction of the animal as it gallantly glides through the waving waters. It has a tapering, muscular, grasping tail that conceals itself in the jungle-like underwater world of seaweed and grasses (Parker, 2000, p. 22). The fins move fast, but the sea horse does not—because it does not have to! What it needs is the ability to perform fast turns, and to move upward and downward quickly. Interestingly, the motion of its fins is perfect for both tasks.
One of the general aspects of nature is that it is the responsibility of the female to produce the young, feed them as they grow, and prepare them to survive on their own. Different creatures handle this task in different ways, but in the case of the sea horse, the female seems to have better things to do than give birth and nurture babies, because these jobs are turned over to the male (Harris, 1991, p. 91). The sea horse exhibits extraordinary design, in that it is the only known animal where the male actually becomes pregnant and gives birth to the offspring. One could say that it performs “double duty!” First, the male produces the sperm necessary to fertilize the egg—just as occurs in most other species. But, second, the male also banks the zygote that will become the embryo, and that eventually will produce the neonate.
During mating, the pair produces unique musical sounds, and then, at the end of the ritual, the female deposits her fertilized eggs in the male’s specialized pouch. Normally, the mating ritual lasts for three days. This ceremony includes color changes, dancing, and grasping random objects. For the two weeks that follow, the male carefully aerates, nourishes, and protects the eggs. When the embryos are mature, the tiny sea horses are born—ready to swim!
God is so creative! He thought up millions of different types of animals, insects, and other living creatures. And as a “finishing touch,” He created one that had the capability to do “double duty” as both mother and father. What decisive design!
As the patriarch Job remarked in the great long ago, “Speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you” (Job 12:8). What, exactly, do the fish “explain”? They speak eloquently of the Creator Whose handiwork is all around us. From the highest reaches of the sky, to the lowest depths of the ocean, the unbiased eye can see the evidence that points unfailingly to God’s existence.
Harris, Bill (1991), Nature’s Curious Creatures (New York: Smithmark).
Macquitty, Miranda (2000), Ocean (New York: Dorling Kindersley).
Parker, Steve (2000), Fish (New York: Dorling Kindersley).
“Sea Horse—Hippocampus” (1991), Reader’s Digest Nature in America (New York: Readers Digest).