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Old 07-09-2009, 09:47 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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Can Sea Mammals Live in Fresh Water

I was reading about the Lake Baikal Seals and got to thinking about this.

If I took a walrus or whale or dolphin or manatee or any other kind of sea mamman that normally lives only in salt water and put it in Lake Michigan, for example, could it live OK?

I mean assuming it could find food and such, and I realize manatees need warm water, but let's ignore that for the moment.

Is the fresh water seal a unique thing that they developed or could any sea mammal go from fresh to salt water without issues?
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  #2  
Old 07-09-2009, 09:56 PM
Phlosphr Phlosphr is offline
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If the food source was plentiful enough I'd think any cetacian or pinniped could live in freshwater. The food would have to be there. There are no marine mammals of any size +/- 50kilos in the great lakes because there is no food source. Otter and mink and other intercoastal species don't really count in this because I don't consider them marine mammals, even though they rely on it or their own survival.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:14 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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For what it's worth, there ARE dolphins living in several rivers in South America.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:18 PM
Blake Blake is offline
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There are several species of dolphin that live exclusively in fresh water, and several more that are marine but where some populations live their entire lives in rivers. The there are animals like belugas that are marine but where many individuals spend about half their lives in fresh water. Then we get the other whales that at least occasionally come into fresh water.

Whether there are issues with going from salt to fresh water is a matte of some debate. Certainly many baleen whales that have spent prolonged periods in fresh water seem to develop skin infections, but this may be because only sick animals spend prolonged periods in fresh water.

What we can say is that for the toothed whales the transition from marine to freshwater lifestyle has occurred so many times that there would appear to be no significant barrier. So it seems more likely that the baleen whales don't live in fresh water because there isn't the food to support them.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:22 PM
Blake Blake is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian View Post
For what it's worth, there ARE dolphins living in several rivers in South America.
And Africa, India, China, Nepal, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia....

Freshwater dolphins are common in large rivers throughout the tropics. There absence in temperate areas is probably due to a seasonal lack of food.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:30 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Manatees can live in either salt or fresh water. In Florida they live in salt water during the warmer parts of the year, retreating to freshwater springs and rivers in the winter. Manatees apparently do not actively drink salt water; when living in marine environments they periodically go to river mouths for fresh water.
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:12 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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I know there are kinds of Sharks that can live in freshwater and kinds that can't. So I was wondering if it was a species adapting over time, or could any sea mammal be put in water of any type? As long as there was food and the water was the right temp.

I mean like could a seal or walrus swim up a river and live there just fine?
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:06 AM
kferr kferr is offline
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There are Californian Sea Lions living in a freshwater lake at Longleat Safari Park. According to the FAQ
Quote:
As the Longleat sea lions are in fresh water they are given sodium or salt tablets, in their diet. Each sea lion is fed 47kg mackerel plus 8 slow sodium tablets and 3 vitamin tablets daily.
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  #9  
Old 07-10-2009, 07:47 AM
Laudenum Laudenum is offline
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I thought that the problem of fresh water v. salt water was one of breathing (gills etc).
And since sea mammals breath air, it isn't a big deal for them.
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  #10  
Old 07-10-2009, 08:39 AM
J-P L J-P L is online now
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I seem to remember hearing from a trainer at a waterpark, probably Marineland in Niagara Falls, Canada, that killer whales need salt water to survive, I think he said it had to do with the stress of swimming and keeping afloat due to their reduced buoyancy in fresh water.

I would assume that other large marine mammals would experience the same effects.
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Old 07-10-2009, 08:51 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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I can't cite this, but I believe there are some health issues for some creatures just based on the salinity of the water, as it provides buoyancy and their skin has adapted to it. Changing/cutting the salinity (fresh water) can result in skin issues for some ocean mammals.


Came back to add link from Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Dolphins can suffer from parasites and worms, and skin
sloughing in fresh water. See Q and A number 19.

http://www.imms.org/dolphinfaq.php

Salt water species don't do well in fresh water. Although they can survive for some time, they will be exhausted by the lack of buoyancy in fresh water. Also, after a while their skin will start to slough as the fresh water does not support their skin or eyes and they can develop serious infections

Last edited by Philster; 07-10-2009 at 08:56 AM..
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Old 07-10-2009, 02:05 PM
BlinkingDuck BlinkingDuck is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laudenum View Post
I thought that the problem of fresh water v. salt water was one of breathing (gills etc).
And since sea mammals breath air, it isn't a big deal for them.
That and, I think, swimming under water. A salt water fish put into fresh water has trouble swimming. I've seen this in pet stores when a feed fish is put into a different tank for a predator fish.

The effect may only be temporary/they might adjust. I don't know.
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  #13  
Old 07-10-2009, 02:09 PM
vandal vandal is offline
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Well, they live in fresh water at Sea World, so I'm guessing they can.
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Old 07-10-2009, 02:21 PM
Snickers Snickers is offline
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It's a reptile, not a mammal, but ISTR that saltwater crocodiles, despite their name, can and do quite happily live in fresh water for long stretches of time. I don't think it works the same way for freshwater crocodiles, though, but I could be (and probably am) mistaken.
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Old 07-10-2009, 03:43 PM
wevets wevets is offline
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I could have sworn we've had a similar thread before, maybe someone with better search-fu will find it.

Most marine mammals do just fine in freshwater. I have worked at (and still volunteer for) a marine mammal rescue center, and we keep our patients primarily in freshwater unless there are specific reasons (usually infections of the eyes or skin) not to.


While I was on staff there, we had an incident with two Humpback Whales swimming upstream from San Francisco Bay and into the Stockton shipping channel. This photograph: http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=7500...&article=29187 was taken a little more than 2 weeks into their adventure, and you can see sores and odd coloration in their skin (compare with this photograph: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_96AixOOx-Z...hales002lm.jpg taken about a week earlier.) Both whales were already wounded by propeller strikes prior to their sighting in the Bay, but the sores developed later and in areas of the skin not adjacent to the wounds. Something similar has happened to other Humpbacks that have spent lots of time in freshwater, but other species, like Gray Whales, seem less susceptible.


There are many species of marine mammals that spend large amounts of time in freshwater - ranging various river dolphins mentioned by Blake that spend their entire lives in freshwater to various pinnipeds, manatees, otters, and porpoises that are often found in freshwater or brackish water without any obvious ill effects. (Maybe non-obvious effects? If there are, we haven't seen them.)

Others, like the Humpback Whales, seem to have more of a problem with freshwater. We don't see them spend a lot of time in freshwater, so we don't really know what the long-term prognosis might be.

Last edited by wevets; 07-10-2009 at 03:43 PM.. Reason: end parentheses
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  #16  
Old 08-14-2010, 05:22 AM
CFallenleaf CFallenleaf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vandal View Post
Well, they live in fresh water at Sea World, so I'm guessing they can.
I know the discussion hasnt been talked in in a year but considering straight dopes catchphrase.
Dolphins and whales alike can live in fresh water for limited amounts of time. Unless of course they are of the fresh water species. Same goes for manitees, sea lions, seals, etc. etc.. i believe its anything up tp two weeks at the longest before major complications arrise. Oh and vandal if you ever read this im not trying to be a jerk when i say this but if you had ever been to sea world you would know that the animals all live in salt water hence the name SEA world. I live in san diego and have been to sea world so i really do know. Shamu splashing 52 degree water thats full of salt in your face tends to dry quickly in california sun leaving behind white salt streaks on wherever you get splashed.
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Old 08-14-2010, 11:09 AM
RaftPeople RaftPeople is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Markxxx View Post
I know there are kinds of Sharks that can live in freshwater and kinds that can't. So I was wondering if it was a species adapting over time, or could any sea mammal be put in water of any type? As long as there was food and the water was the right temp.

I mean like could a seal or walrus swim up a river and live there just fine?
Sea lions swim about 150 miles up the Columbia river and stay for an extended period of time when there are salmon there (at the Bonneville Dam).
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  #18  
Old 08-14-2010, 12:49 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CFallenleaf View Post
Dolphins and whales alike can live in fresh water for limited amounts of time. Unless of course they are of the fresh water species. Same goes for manitees, sea lions, seals, etc. etc.. i believe its anything up tp two weeks at the longest before major complications arrise.
As has been pointed out by several posters above, some species are quite happy living in fresh water for much more than two weeks (not just freshwater species), including belugas, some dolphins, and manatees.
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  #19  
Old 08-14-2010, 02:02 PM
SmithCommaJohn SmithCommaJohn is offline
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Would water intoxication become a problem for some marine mammals living for prolonged periods in fresh water?

After all, most of them are presumably able to hydrate by drinking saltwater, which would probably mean that their bodies are adapted to the presence of much higher levels of sodium than most land mammals.

I assume that's why those sea lions in the freshwater lake have to be given salt tablets with their food.
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Old 08-14-2010, 03:09 PM
Dallas Jones Dallas Jones is offline
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Originally Posted by RaftPeople View Post
Sea lions swim about 150 miles up the Columbia river and stay for an extended period of time when there are salmon there (at the Bonneville Dam).
The sea lions in the Columbia below Bonneville dam are a huge problem. Some of the ones that have been relocated bore tags from as far away as San Fransico. So they really don't have any problem adjusting between salt and fresh water.

http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingn...g_sea_lio.html

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/sealion/index.asp
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  #21  
Old 10-07-2010, 07:57 PM
wevets wevets is offline
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Originally Posted by SmithCommaJohn View Post
After all, most of them are presumably able to hydrate by drinking saltwater, which would probably mean that their bodies are adapted to the presence of much higher levels of sodium than most land mammals.

In general, marine mammals hydrate from their food and don't drink at all. There are exceptions, but for sea lions in particular, drinking is a sign of ill health, including kidney failure - see http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/sc...ospirosis.html for some details.
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  #22  
Old 10-08-2010, 12:28 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is online now
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If I understood correctly what a marine biologist was telling me, the two major problems salt water mammals in fresh water are susceptibility to diseases and organisms that live in fresh water, and maintaining the proper balance of salt internally. They apparently concentrate salt in urine and may do so to an excess. But the change of environment is not fatal in itself, instead it creates a stressful condition that weakens the animal, leaving susceptible to other problems.
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  #23  
Old 10-08-2010, 06:28 AM
Meurglys Meurglys is offline
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Curiously, there are populations of manatees in Chad and Mali, both landlocked countries. The Mali ones live around 2000 kilometres up the Niger from the sea, and the Chad ones (assuming they're still extant) live in a couple of lakes and also rivers that drain into Lake Chad. Both populations are standard West African manatees, ifaik.
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  #24  
Old 10-08-2010, 07:03 AM
Floater Floater is offline
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There are freshwater seals in lake Saimaa in Finland.
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