Saltwater platypus surprise!
On the windswept ocean beaches of Kangaroo Island, off the southern coast of the Australian mainland, it was just another ordinary day.
The island is renowned as a place where you can get close to local fauna such as seals, kangaroos and koalas. Some international tourists aimed their video camera [actual image available only in Creation magazine] at one of Australia’s most famous native animals as it emerged from the sea and made its way up the sandy beach.1
Yes, the creature certainly matched the well-known descriptions of it which had for so long intrigued sceptical biologists: fur like velvet, a beaver-like tail, a bill that looks like a duck’s, and clawed feet useful for digging.2 The tourists were delighted and excited to be able to see for themselves a real live platypus in its natural habitat.
Or was it? ‘In the wild’, certainly, but was this platypus really ‘in its natural habitat’? Accompanying the tourists on the beach at that time was their Australian tour guide. In stark contrast to the visitors from overseas, Campwild Adventures tour guide Ben Combridge was dumbfounded (‘spun out’) to see this platypus come in to the shore, ‘riding in on a small wave’, and waddle up the beach. While the tourists were excited to experience what they thought was a standard encounter with local wildlife, the Australian knew better. As he told a news reporter: ‘I was—like—“That’s not meant to be here!”’1
Indeed. As an Australian myself, I was always taught that platypuses live in fresh water, not seawater, and are most usually found in mountain streams and creeks in eastern Australia—nowhere near a seashore environment.3
But when biologists heard of the seashore encounter with the Kangaroo Island platypus, their comments indicated that the platypus is a species that scientists still know little about.
‘When you think you know what they’re doing—they do something different’, said one platypus expert, describing this latest observation as ‘incredible’. Another expert who has successfully bred platypuses in captivity for more than 10 years, Dr John Wamsley, was just as candid. ‘I’ve never known of them going into the salty water’, he said. ‘Whether they can survive in salt water or not, I haven’t got a clue.’1
Well, clearly platypuses can and do frequent seawater without any apparent ill effects, for since this first witnessing of a platypus emerging from the sea, Kangaroo Island tour guides have reported other sightings of platypuses in saltwater rock pools in the area.
This discovery adds to the weight of evidence showing that many amphibians and water-dwelling creatures (e.g. crocodiles, salmon, eels, starfish) can tolerate large changes in salinity—thus helping to explain why both saltwater and freshwater creatures (which were not on board the Ark) were able to survive in the waters of the global Flood (Genesis 6–9).4
It is likely, though, that Noah took a pair of platypuses on board the Ark, as, although they are known to be able to spend up to 10 hours in the water,5 much of their time is spent on land. They dig their burrows on dry land, usually taking care to dry themselves before entering, and they will not enter a burrow if the entrance is below the waterline. Finding that platypuses can tolerate saltwater gives us further insight into how they managed to spread out from the Ark’s landing place in the mountains of Ararat—by swimming and walking their way to Australia. In the light of this new report, it’s possible that their migration route might have even included significant stretches of ocean.6,7
So, for Christians, we need not be surprised on hearing of yet another amphibian or aquatic animal, previously thought of as living exclusively either in fresh or salty water, being discovered to tolerate both. But having been an atheist once myself—a believer in evolution and completely ignorant of the Bible—I can understand why many are surprised when findings like this are announced. In fact, I remember in my younger days going on a holiday to Kangaroo Island, and standing on the bank of an estuary just a few hundred metres from the sea, looking out over the calm water and seeing something like a mole or a rat rise to the surface momentarily a few metres away from me, before submerging again. Puzzled and startled, I remember thinking, ‘What was that? Surely not a water rat here in salt water—but what else could it be?’ It never occurred to me at that time that I might have been looking at a platypus … .8
So I can well understand the tour guide’s astonishment as he stood on the beach with his group of tourists: ‘We didn’t take much notice at first—it just looked like a bit of seaweed coming in on the wash’, he said. ‘But as the water washed back, it kept on coming.’
References and notes
- Littlely, B., The platypus with a taste for the sea, The Advertiser, 19 July 2003, p. 11. Return to text.
- Also, the platypus and spiny anteater are the only two mammals that lay eggs. See Doolan, R., Mackay, J., Snelling, A. and Hallby, A., The Platypus, Creation 8(3):6–9, 1986. Return to text.
- The platypus’s range extends from the Annan River in northern Queensland through New South Wales to far-south Victoria and the island state of Tasmania. They are only occasionally found on the South Australian mainland—in the Riverland area of the Murray River. The Kangaroo Island population is actually descended from animals introduced from other states (Victoria and possibly Tasmania) since European settlement. Platypus in Country Areas, <rainforest-australia.com/platypus_in_country_areas.htm>, 29 July 2003. Return to text.
- See chapter 14 in: Batten, D. (Ed.), The Answers Book [now The Creation Answers Book], Creation Ministries International, Brisbane, Australia, 1999. Return to text.
- Platypuses breathe air through their nostrils, and when in water, come to the surface at least every 10 minutes. NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service—Platypus, <www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/npws.nsf/Content/The+platypus>, 29 July 2003. Return to text.
- We should also remember that, as the saltiness of our seawater is increasing all the time, ocean salinity was likely to have been lower in the first few centuries after the Flood, around 4,500 years ago. Sarfati, J., Salty seas—evidence for a young earth, Creation 21(1):16–17, 1998. Return to text.
- A common belief is that the platypus evolved in Australia. However, fossil platypus teeth have been found in South America, prompting one leading Australian palaeontologist (and atheist), Dr Michael Archer, to say, ‘This should shatter our warm conviction that the platypus was uniquely Australian.’ The Weekend Australian, 23–24 January, 1993, p. 10. Return to text.
- I have since seen platypuses many times in mountain streams of Queensland and New South Wales, and when I read this recent news report (ref. 1), I remembered that the form and swimming behaviour of the Kangaroo Island ‘mole’-like creature I saw was consistent with that of a platypus. Interestingly, in 1797, when early European settlers in the Sydney area first encountered a platypus, they, too, described the animal as a ‘watermole’. Ref. 2. Return to text.