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Adapting to the Marine Environment

Most of the animals you will find at Marineland belong to the class known as mammals. We will now take a moment to look at the different types and what makes them similar and also what makes them different.

Mammals are animals that have lungs and breathe air. They also are warm-blooded which means that they are able to warm themselves no matter what the outside temperature. Fish and reptiles, on the other hand, are cold-blooded. When the outside temperature goes down or up, so does their body temperature and so does their body metabolism. This is why animals like frogs and snakes lay dormant during the winter months.

Most mammals develop inside their mother and are then born alive. Mammals also have mammary glands on which the young feed for several months after birth. All mammals also have some hair at least at some stage in their life. Man, of course, is on the top of the list of most people's favorite mammals!

There are twenty-one different orders of mammals. Most of these orders live on land. However, there are two groups that have adapted to life in the sea. These two orders are the pinnipeds and the cetaceans – the seals and the whales. Because these animals spend their time in the ocean, man is not able to study them with the same ease that he can other animals. Can you imagine the difficulty in trying to observe and study an animal that only comes to the surface to breathe, which can only take a fraction of a second?

It was not until the late 1940s and beyond that man was able to get a closer look at these intriguing creatures. The advent of the aqua-lung and the formation of oceanariums like Marineland finally opened the doors for more in-depth studies.

We now know that marine mammals developed from land mammals many millions of years ago. The marine mammals have all of the internal organs that land mammals have. Even their skeletal system, with a few exceptions, is the same. In fact, the biggest difference between the two is their environments.

So what would be different about living in the ocean? Well, first of all, visibility under water is usually much less than on land and the deeper you go, the darker it gets. Most marine mammals therefore depend on their sense of hearing much more than sight. The fact that sound travels faster in water than in air facilitates the use of hearing and communicating under water. Also, the sense of smell is used much less in seals than in land mammals, and it is completely non-existent in cetaceans.

The effect of gravity on the bodies of animals is also different in the water. The watery surroundings support the bodies of marine animals on all sides and this has allowed marine mammals to grow to enormous sizes, some of them many times larger than even the largest dinosaurs!

Another important difference is body shape. Marine mammals are much more streamlined, which allows them better mobility in water. Also, their outer covering, which is usually fur or hair in land mammals, is a smooth layer of skin which helps cut down on friction.

One of the most unusual features of cetaceans is the location of their nasal passages. The noses of land animals have been replaced by blowholes on top of their heads. The blowhole leads to the lungs and unlike the nose of land animals, is completely separate from the mouth.

The following table of similarities and differences between humans, killer whales and carp highlights some important differences.

Topic Humans Killer Whales Carps
Kingdom Animalia Animalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata Chordata
Sub Phylum Vertebrata Vertebrata Vertebrata
Class Mammalia Mammalia Pisces
Genus Homo Orcinus Cyprinus
Body Temperature Warm blooded Warm blooded Cold blooded
Breathing Involuntary Voluntary Oxygen Filtered
(through gills)
Skin Covering Hair Hairless
smooth skin
Birth Live young Live young Eggs
Limbs Arms/legs Pectoral fins/fluke Pectoral & tail fins