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GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
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In The Name Of God Most Gracious Most Merciful
To write about the animals of the sea would require volumes. Since nearly ¾ of the earth’s surface is water it’s not surprising that the number of animals that live therein is huge and varied. God tells us that He made every living creature from water. And He mentions the bounties of the sea many times in the Quran.
And He committed the sea to serve you; you eat from it tender meat and extract jewelry which you wear. And you see the ships roaming it for your commercial benefits, as you seek His bounties, that you may be appreciative. (16:14)
The two seas are not the same; one is fresh and delicious, while the other is salty and undrinkable. From each of them you eat tender meat, and extract jewelry to wear. And you see the ships sailing through them seeking His provisions, that you may be appreciative. (35:12)
Both of those verses end with the phrase “that you may be appreciative.” Studying just a small portion of the vast numbers of creatures of the sea makes one very appreciative. There are over 20,000 species of fish alone—more kinds of fish than all other kinds of land and water vertebrates put together. If you’ve ever snorkeled or scuba dived near a coral reef, you’re aware. You can’t help but be amazed by the variety of shapes and sizes, those that hide among coral and seaweed and those that dart about individually or in groups, and the colors are just awesome.
Many fish are colored to match their surroundings and become nearly invisible. Bright silvery fish generally swim in groups in well-lighted waters such as mountain lakes, so the bright sun flashing off their scales confuses predators—it’s difficult to pick out an individual fish with all that flashing. Colors and patterns that break up the outline of the fish may also act as camouflage. Fish with vertical lines on each side of their bodies tend to live among aquatic plants and thus blend in with the stems of the plants. Even the vivid hues referred to as “poster colors”—the dazzling, complex color patterns on so many reef fish—serve practical functions, besides being pleasing to the eye of the snorkeler. In some, such as butterfly fishes and puffers, colors may signal that the possessor is too spiny or poisonous to be worth eating. Bright colors may also be important signs of sex, status or maturity. And interestingly, the bright colors may also provide camouflage. The sun shines in patches through the water onto the reef. The brightly colored coral itself and sponges and anemones attached to it provide a place for the fish to actually blend in and hide. But I know that God didn’t have to make fish so amazingly colorful and interesting. We need to appreciate that gift.
God provided fish as one means of sustenance. He talks about the community by the sea that when they were righteous the fish came in abundance (7:163). And He tells us that fishing during Hajj is permitted while hunting on land is not (5:94-6). One reason is the vast numbers of fish compared to land animals. But He didn’t have to provide such interesting varieties of sea life. One kind of nourishing fish would have been sufficient. But God is so Merciful and so Generous that He made the oceans and lakes absolutely full of fascinating creatures—not just for our sustenance but also for our enjoyment and appreciation.
Fish range in size from about 12 mm up to a whale shark that may be nearly 60 feet long. The waters are full of a variety of shapes and sizes of fish. In 1910 a ship bound for Sydney, Australia had a collision with a sunfish that shook the whole boat. The fish was so firmly embedded in one propeller that the ship simply proceeded to Sydney on one engine. When the fish was removed it weighed 4928 pounds and was 10 feet long!
Many fish travel in schools, which is an amazing phenomenon. Individuals all face the same direction, evenly spaced, moving at the same speed. They wheel and turn as one. It might seem dangerous to travel with that many together and in some cases, it does offer an easy meal for certain predators. For instance, a sawfish will move into the middle of a school and slash his sharp snout all around. Then he feeds on the wounded fish.
But in general the large group actually reduces predation by having more look outs, and the larger group may be intimidating and/or confusing to predators. Just like birds flying in a flock, a school of fish greatly increases the efficiency of swimming. A school may number just a handful of individuals or millions. Schools of herring have been observed that occupied nearly 4.6 billion cubic meters of ocean.
Fish live in mountain lakes at elevations of 12,000 feet and higher and in ocean depths of at least 25,000 feet. Deep oceans are still being explored and new life is continuously being discovered. We probably only know a fraction of all the sea life.
Fish are only one group of animals that live in water. The seas are full of a huge variety of strange and wonderful creatures. There are mammals such as the highly intelligent dolphins and the gentle whales. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on earth, 80 to 100 feet long. There are crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs; mollusks such as oysters and clams. Plus sharks, jellyfish, sea horses, barnacles, coral, sea worms…the list is nearly endless.
Starfish are not fish but echinoderms and are referred to as the garbage men of the sea. A starfish crawls along the ocean floor and eats anything it touches, by pushing its stomach out and surrounding and digesting the food. It can grow new arms; it can even grow a new body around one arm or a small body piece. In fact before this fact was known, clam fisherman would cut up the starfish that they caught with their clams and throw the pieces back in the sea. They were trying to eliminate the competition and couldn’t understand why the starfish population exploded.
42:19 GOD is fully aware of all His creatures; He provides for whomever He wills. He is the Powerful, the Almighty.
29:60 Many a creature that does not carry its provision, God provides for it, as well as for you. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.
This is demonstrated in several sea creatures as God provides for them through symbiotic relationships. One kind of crab, appropriately called a sponge crab, hides from its enemies by tearing off a piece of red sponge, another sea animal. The crab holds the sponge on its back for several days as the sponge continues to grow. It fills in the spaces on the crab’s back and attaches itself to the crab. The crab then looks like a sponge, which fish don’t eat, so the crab is safe. And the sponge benefits because when the crab tears its food, bits of food float up to where the sponge can suck them in, easy and regular provisions.
The boxing crab attaches a small sea anemone, another creature of the sea, to each front claw and walks along holding the anemones in front like boxing gloves. If attacked the crab will jab with the anemone, which stings the attacking fish and drives it away. For the anemone, this is the only way it can move around and like the sponge it shares the food bits that the crab tears up.
One fascinating animal of the sea is the octopus. They are quite intelligent creatures, with a large brain proportionally. One in captivity unscrewed a glass jar to get to a crab inside, and they have learned to uncork bottles. They may be as huge as 32 feet across, and there’s a lovely little 6-inch one called the Blue Ringed Octopus, which has a pretty blue color around the edge of its head. Beautiful. However if a man steps on it and it bites, the man will be dead in 5 minutes.
After mating, a female octopus will build a nest by piling shells and rocks against a narrow entrance usually in a coral reef. Then she squeezes in. For about two weeks she lays eggs and braids them like beads on a string hanging from the top of the den—like a beaded curtain. She will lay up to 100,000 eggs! Over the next 2-3 months she guards and cares for the eggs. She uses the suction cups on her legs like tiny vacuum cleaners keeping dirt and parasites off the eggs, and she squirts water over them for cleaning and to provide oxygen. She eats nothing throughout this period—this is the culmination of her life.
When the eggs hatch, each is a tiny, almost microscopic, whole octopus. The mother uses her jets to squirt water toward the den opening and the current carries the little guys out. 100,000 baby octopi all emerging at once, choking up the ocean! Well, about half of them are eaten on their first day of life. Probably only 2 or 3 will ever become adults! The rest are part of the food chain—God’s provisions.
One other fascinating aspect of ocean life that I’d like to touch on is migration. Just as birds migrate over specific pathways and difficult journeys, so do some marine animals travel great distances under very adverse conditions. Some, like birds, migrate annually—the same individuals making the same journey each year, but most animals of the sea migrate only once to return to spawning grounds and then die. In fact the trip is so difficult that a great many die without ever reaching their destination.
The European eel is spawned in the Sargasso Sea in March and April. The eggs float free, soon hatching to a larva stage which rides the Gulf stream eastward. By October of their third year they are about 7 cm long and have drifted to the Spanish and Irish coastal areas. They move into rivers in Germany or into the Baltic Sea. They remain in fresh inland waterways for the next 9-15 years.
Then at the appropriate time, “as commanded by their Lord,” they stop feeding and begin a tremendous migration to return to the spawning grounds they left as eggs and larva. They overcome huge obstacles—many actually leave the water and snake across a dew-covered field in order to reach another river, which will take them to the sea. They may negotiate hundreds of miles of inland hazards to reach the mouth of the river and head out to sea. Then, thousands of miles remain. For instance, from the mouth of the Elbe River in Germany to the Sargasso Sea is 3500 nautical miles. They travel all that way back to a place they never really knew just to lay their eggs and die.
Salmon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States provide quite a spectacle when they make their annual migration. They travel great distances from the open ocean into the specific river from which they came. They go against rapids, up waterfalls, actually leaping out of the water. If not successful, they keep trying and trying until injury or exhaustion causes them to die. Bears wait along the rapids and pull out the exhausted ones or even catch them in mid-air as they leap. This provides an easy meal for the bear at a critical time before it goes into hibernation.
For the salmon who reach the place where they were spawned, the female lays 10-20 thousand eggs which are fertilized by a male. Most of the salmon are so exhausted they simply die but a few recover and migrate back to the feeding grounds. They will return in 2 or 3 years to do it all over again.
Sea turtles are also amazing. The green turtle comes ashore at night, laboring up the beach to a spot above the high tide line. Using her flippers, kind of like a shovel, she digs a pit, perhaps 2 feet deep. This may take nearly an hour of continuous labor. In a smaller pit in the center she lays over 100 eggs. Then she carefully covers it all back over with sand. She spends time using her flippers to mess up a wide area so predators won’t know where to dig. In Florida, beaches are patrolled to keep animals and people from disturbing the nests.
The eggs hatch in about 10 weeks. En masse these tiny little green turtles frantically dig to the surface. They nearly always emerge at night to avoid the heat of the sun and predators like seagulls. But still it’s a hazardous journey. They must paddle wildly through the sand toward the water—the beach is alive with tiny perfect turtles. Many fall prey to dogs and cats, ghost crabs, snakes and birds. Those that reach the water may be gobbled up by crocodiles and sharks. The few that survive spend the rest of their lives in the water. The only time they will touch land is to return to the beach where they were hatched to lay eggs themselves. They will cross at least 1400 miles of open ocean to find the very beach they scrambled away from on their first day of life, and naturalists admit they have no idea why or how. Knowing God is in control of every living creature makes this easier to understand. Still, it’s quite miraculous.
God is the One who committed the sea in your service, so that the ships can roam it in accordance with His laws. You thus seek His provisions, that you may be appreciative. [45:12]
All fish of the sea are made lawful for you to eat. (5:96)
And He gives you all kinds of things that you implore
Him for. If you count God’s blessings, you can never encompass them. (14:34)
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