Is the Ocean Salty because of Whale Sperm?

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Whale Sperm
Whale Sperm

On the Jersey Shore this week, Snooki had a boyfriend named Jeff who once wanted to take a dip in said ocean. However, tonight the Snook-ster actually informed the viewing audience (along with Jeff) that “I f—in’ hate the ocean. Too much whale sperm. Everybody Google it, because that’s why the water is salty. F—in’ whale sperm.”

Snooki was wrong about the reason for a salty ocean. The ocean is salty because the salt in the ocean comes from rocks on land. In fact, if the ocean’s salt was spread over land, then it would form a layer that is nearly 500 feet deep.

History:

From many years an email hoax/Joke circulated:- A typical blue whale produces over 400 gallons of sperm when it ejaculates… and you wonder why the ocean is so salty!

Original message of the email was: Subject: Don’t drink the sea water… read below first…. “The average blue whale produces over 400 gallons of sperm when it ejaculates, but only 10% of that actually makes it into his mate. So 360 gallons are spilled into the ocean every time one unloads, and you wonder why the ocean is so salty…”

What is True:

As per the email above, it’s a two-part hoax, the text having first appeared as a “Fact of the Day” on email joke lists toward the end of 2002. The above image is of unknown origin and didn’t begin making the rounds until June 2003.

It should be obvious at first glance that the text and image don’t match. How could the relatively small cetacean specimen in this photograph possibly produce 400 gallons of sperm at a go? (By way of comparison, the capacity of an average hot tub is roughly that same amount, 400 gallons, meaning this poor creature would have to possess testicles twice the size of the rest of its body to live up to its glandular reputation.)

About testicular capacity:

It stands to reason that since blue whales are the largest animals on the planet, their reproductive organs ought to be of similarly impressive dimensions, and that is certainly the case. By one estimate, the penis of a blue whale can measure up to 16 feet long and its testicles weigh in at around 25 pounds apiece. But even packing 50 pounds of bollocks — the weight of an average-sized bulldog, if you require a benchmark — it’s absurd to imagine that a blue whale, or any other creature on earth for that matter, could produce 400 gallons of seminal fluid at a time, or even one-tenth that amount. (For yet another comparison, I found a credible source stating that the southern right whale — which has testicles even larger than the blue whale’s, weighing in a half-a-ton apiece — produces about five gallons of ejaculate in a single mating session. Five gallons, not 500.) The statistic is bogus and outlandish.

Then there’s the question of whether or not the animal depicted in the image is even a blue whale at all — which, actually, it appears it is not. Blue whales average at least 75 feet in length. Using the human beings in the photograph for scale, this creature is clearly smaller than a blue whale and most likely isn’t any kind of whale at all, but rather a whale shark.

And since sharks don’t have penises per se, we must further conclude that either this image has been doctored, or the spectacular appendage dangling between the animal’s pelvic fins is one of its claspers, a pair of tubular organs with which a male shark fastens itself to the female and inseminates her during reproduction.

Notable Points:

* Blue whales can’t possibly ejaculate 400 gallons of sperm — the capacity of a typical hot tub — not even close.

* The animal in the photo isn’t a blue whale in the first place, nor is the circled appendage its penis.

* There are no doubt good reasons to avoid making a habit of drinking sea water, but sperm spillover isn’t one of them.

* Which is more than can be said for hot tub water.

Now the main point: Why Is the Ocean Salty?

It’s really easy to understand why the ocean is salty. The oceans have been around a very long time, so some of the salts were added to the water at a time when gases and lava were spewing from increased volcanic activity. The carbon dioxide dissolved in water from the atmosphere forms weak carbonic acid which dissolves minerals. When these minerals dissolve, they form ions, which make the water salty. While water evaporates from the ocean, the salt gets left behind. Also, rivers drain into the oceans, bringing in additional ions from rock that was eroded by rainwater and streams.

The saltiness of the ocean, or its salinity, is fairly stable at about 35 parts per thousand. To give you a sense of how much salt that is, it is estimated that if you took all the salt out of the ocean and spread it over the land, the salt would form a layer more than 500 feet (166 m) deep! You might think the ocean would become increasingly salty over time, but part of the reason it does not is because many of the ions in the ocean are taken in by the organisms that live in the ocean. Another factor may be the formation of new minerals.

So, lakes get water from streams and rivers. Lakes are in contact with the ground. Why aren’t they salty? Well, some are! Think of the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea. Other lakes, such as the Great Lakes, are filled with water that contains many minerals, yet doesn’t taste salty. Why is this? Partly it is because water tastes salty if it contains sodium ions and chloride ions. If the minerals associated with a lake don’t contain much sodium, the water won’t be very salty. Another reason lakes tend not to be salty is because water often leaves lakes to continue its trip toward the sea. According to an article at Science Daily, a drop of water and its associated ions will remain in one of the Great Lakes for around 200 years. On the other hand, a water droplet and its salts may remain in the ocean for 100-200 million years.

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