PROVIDENTIAL PROGRAMMING IN SALMON LIFE CYCLES: DISPLAYING DOXOLOGICAL TELEOLOGY IN CREATION ECOLOGY
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain [i.e., clarify] unto you; who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?(Job 12:8-9)
Salmon are providentially designed and bioengineered to be amazing animals.
The salmon’s fascinating and variety-programmed life cycle is typically lived out within freshwater and saltwater habitats—it is nothing short of marvelous and magnificent. Put succinctly, salmon exhibit a doxology of teleology—operating with glory-displaying purposefulness—as they swim through life.
SALMON LIFE CYCLE: ONE MIRACLE AFTER ANOTHER, SYNCHRONIZING DEVELOPMENT TO HABITAT PHENOLOGY, REPEATEDLY
In May, hundreds of salmon fry are experiencing their own version of “live-streaming,” according to a report from Maine Audubon’s Molly Woodring.
May is when we typically release our Atlantic salmon fry into the Presumpscot River watershed. … Some participants released their salmon early, some took them home, and others were able to keep caring for them on-site.1Molly Woodring, footnote 1
The life cycle of salmon can be learned by visiting a fish hatchery. Besides learning the biology of salmonid fish (like salmon, trout, and charr), hatchery field trips should prompt our awe and appreciation for how God gives these fish life.2,3
Consider how miraculous the life cycle of Atlantic (or Pacific) salmon really is.
Salmon begin their remarkable life-cycle from eggs which have been laid, fertilized, and covered with gravel (sometimes sand) in the upper reaches of a river or stream. Water must flow through the gravel to supply oxygen. After incubation, tiny alevins (pronounced AL-i-vinz) emerge from the eggs. Alevins have a yolk sac below their bellies which contains sufficient nutrition for their early development. They do not emerge from under the gravel during this alevin stage, but stay there for protection against predators until their yolk sac is fully absorbed.3Denis Dreves, footnote 3
The next stage of life for salmon is “fry”—the stage at which some venture (or are released) into freshwater streams that flow into tidal coast-waters.
When they emerge they are 3-4 centimetres (about 1 1/2 inches) long, and are called fry. They make their way to larger freshwater pools for protection from sunlight and predators. The time which fry stay in fresh water varies with the species, and can be from two to 20 months.3Denis Dreves, footnote 3
At the “fry” stage the young salmon are almost ready to be venture out (then as “parr”)into a freshwater stream that flows into oceanic tidewaters. So Molly Woodring’s group brought their salmon fry to Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, a multidisciplinary eco-science campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts.4
Ours [i.e., salmon fry raised by Molly Woodring’s group] continued to grow at Gilsland Farm [Audubon Center] until last Thursday [April 30th, A.D.2020], when we packed up close to 200 thriving fry and brought them back to the Saco Salmon Restoration Alliance and Hatchery… to [prepare] “our” salmon with an exciting future as potential brood stock for future generations of Fish Friends salmon.1Molly Woodring, footnote 1
Salmon fry need to wait, staying in calm parts of freshwater streams (or inside a hatchery’s artificial equivalent), until they transition from fry into striped “parr,” then into the silvery “smolt” stage. At that time, they can adventurously swim downstream into coastal sea-waters. This is usually done on a moonless night, under the protective cover of darkness—no need to attract fish-eating predators!5
Since coastal waters mix riverine tributary freshwaters with oceanic saltwater, the saltiness at the coast is less salty than the more concentrated salinity of open-ocean water. Accordingly, smolts in coastal waters briefly acclimate before they venture out into the salty ocean—which is now to be the “home range” for most of the remainder of their lives.
Denis Dreves, footnote 3
Just before they journey downstream to the ocean, some physiological changes occur, and the young salmon are now called smolts. Here an amazing adaptation takes place: the creatures start to adapt from their freshwater homes to the salt water of the ocean.3
But the preprogrammed time arrives, eventually, when a physiological “alarm clock” rings inside the ocean-dwelling salmon, signaling that it is time to return to the native stream-waters, to go upstream for reproductive spawning.
This process will be reversed again when the fish later return to the place of their birth to spawn. After a period of adjustment to salt water at the river’s mouth, they make their way to the sea, where they spend most of their adult lives. Time spent in the ocean also varies with species, but is normally one to five years. While in the ocean, salmon travel thousands of miles from their native rivers. The mystery of migration is still only vaguely understood, and is another of the many jewel-like evidences of intricate design found in created things.3
Really, the life cycle of salmon is one providential miracle after another.2,3 The only reason we don’t call these divinely programmed physiological details what they are—miracles—is because they are incessantly repeated in the life cycle of every salmon.
Fish hatcheries are aquaculture operations that focus on the early life of salmon. More can be learned about fish life, especially its adult phase, by visiting an operational “fish farm,” where net-pens serve as 3D “corrals” for salmonid “livestock” who are being fattened up for the market.6
Both hatchery and fish-farm visits can provide opportunities to see how the Genesis Mandate is being furthered by raising fish as marine “livestock.”3,6
Meanwhile, improving the health of freshwater tributaries should improve the future for salmon and trout of later generations, who use and reuse the streams that their forebears used during their anadromous life cycles.
Molly Woodring, footnote 1
In future years, their descendants [salmon who are descended from those released into tidewater-tributaries during May of 2020] may benefit from Maine Audubon’s work to improve stream connectivity [i.e., constructing culverts to conserve habitats at otherwise interruptive stream-road crossings] and restore habitat for salmon and other wildlife.1
Fish are important members of the animal kingdom. Scripture mentions fish on many occasions, including times when fish were being served as nutritious food7—and on one occasion the Lord Jesus clearly indicated that fish, as a food, was nutritionally good to eat.8
FISH-FARMING LESSON: MIMICKING GOD’S DESIGN FOR WILDLIFE ECOLOGY WORKS BETTER FOR SALMON
Once again, results are better when aquaculture imitates the natural life cycle of Atlantic salmon.9,10
In other words, the closer fish farmers get to imitating God’s natural program for anadromous fish life cycles, the healthier it is for the fish being farmed.11 This is no surprise for biblical creationists, but this has been a new learning experience for secular scientists.
The Fish Site, footnote 9
Smolt that have been kept in brackish [slightly salty] water for two weeks in their hatcheries before being transferred to marine nets pens are less susceptible to skin ulcers caused by Tenacibaculum. So concludes new research organised by [the Norwegian commercial aquaculture giant] Cermaq R&D and the University of Bergen (UiB), which tested various smolt production strategies in relation to Tenacibaculum susceptibility.9
In the wild, young salmon (called “smolt”) travel downstream to brackish estuarial waters where freshwater streams mix with tidal saltwaters. Living in the brackish (slightly saline) waters for a while, the smolt acclimate to the salinity changes, then head out to sea where the salinity is at ocean strength.11
However, in the aquaculture industry, this transitional acclimation phase has not been mimicked, so the farmed fish have been dumped from freshwater tanks into marine netpens, thus being deprived of the advantages that God programmed into the transitional brackish waters phase.12
Ensuring smolt adapt successfully after transfer to marine sites is notoriously difficult, but Virginia Iglesias of the Fish Vet Group offers some valuable insights into failed smolt syndrome and how to minimise it. The failure to adapt between freshwater (hypo-osmotic medium) and seawater conditions (hyper-osmotic medium) and return to normal feed, due to either inadequate fish development or alteration of osmoregulatory capacity in smolts, constitutes one of the main causes of losses in farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). The potential causes of this syndrome are complex and not yet fully understood, with no simple recommendations on how to address the problem.12Virginia Iglesias, footnote 12
In past studies, the disadvantages of skipping this key ecological stage in the salmon’s natural life cycle had been noticed as causing osmoregulatory problems.
Virginia Iglesias, footnote 12
Several factors can lead to failure in the osmoregulatory process—both directly after transfer to seawater and in the period just after the populations have been transferred to a new environment. The time of transfer appears to be a major determinant, with salmon smolts transferred to sea either prematurely (before the beginning of the physiological transfer window) or too late (while exceeding their window) commonly presenting reduced osmoregulatory ability in saltwater.12
Tenacibaculum infection ulcers are particularly prevalent in salmon living in colder ocean waters, such as the coastwaters of Bergen in northern Norway.10 Recent Nofima aquaculture research in Bergen revealed that farmed salmons’ immune defenses are extra vulnerable to Tenacibaculum infection ulcers if they are deprived of time in brackish waters.
The Fish Site, footnote 9
Normally, post-smolt are transferred directly from fresh water to seawater shortly after smoltification. Other strategies include keeping the fish in fresh water for longer periods, or adding saltwater before transferring them to the sea. … [The Nofima-Cermaq research team] took samples of smolt before and after infection. This was done to investigate what happens in the skin when fish are infected. The trials were carried out at the Industrial and Aquatic Laboratory (ILAB) in Bergen. After the fish were smoltified, post-smolt weighing 70 grams, 100 grams and 150 grams—in both fresh water and in brackish water (26 parts per thousand of salt)—were transferred to seawater and infected with the Tenacibaculum bacterium.9
The University of Bergen research team analyzed the salmon tissues to determine how Tenacibaculum infection occurred.
The team, which was led by UiB [University of Bergen] researcher Marte Fredriksen, used various histological tools to investigate where in the tissue the bacterium was located. … The study showed that the skin of salmon farmed in freshwater developed differently compared to the fish reared in brackish water.9The Fish Site, footnote 9
Reiden Lilleholt Kraugerud, footnote 10
The surface of the skin of the freshwater salmon was also weaker than the skin of the brackish water salmon when transferred to seawater, explains Christian Karlsen, an aquamedicine scientist at Nofima and Fredriksen’s supervisor: “The most obvious effect was more damage to the epidermis of the freshwater fish, which worsened when the fish became infected. By putting this in context with the trial’s mortality rates, we believe that the transition to full-strength seawater is a greater strain on freshwater fish than on brackish water fish. This suggests that the fish can be acclimatised to seawater by keeping them in brackish water before transferring to seawater, therefore reducing the risk of tenacibaculosis.”10
In other words, God providentially equips the salmon immune systems by programming them to practice an anadromous lifestyle. This includes transitioning in brackish estuarial waters before heading out to sea, so that the young salmon are prepared for interacting with saltwater-hosted planktonic bacteria like Tenacibaculum.
Once again, careful research has proven the astonishingly complicated and spectacularly providential details of the Atlantic salmon.13 This should immediately remind us to glorify God, for how He has made this magnificent fish, as Dr. Jeff Tomkins doxologically documents:
This fish [Salmo salar] is born inland in freshwater streams miles from the ocean, migrates to live in the salty sea, and then returns to fresh water so it can spawn. The salmon has a unique ability to maintain a constant healthy level of saltiness. Its internal cellular and organellar systems adjust automatically in response to environmental tracking systems that monitor external salt levels. Chief among these engineered systems are specialized sodium pumps embedded in the cell membranes. The pumps’ activity is coordinated not only within the internal apparatus of the cell but also with other systems in the salmon’s various organs, especially those on the forefront of osmoregulation (the maintenance of body-fluid pressure) such as the gills and kidneys.
In addition to these integrated cellular systems, the salmon has built-in behavioral traits to also manage its salt levels. Instead of immediately charging into the ocean or back into fresh water, it pauses to temporarily equilibrate its body in transitionary zones between the two.14Jeffrey P. Tomkins (M.S., Ph.D., M.C.Ed.), footnote 14
If we take the time to learn, even salmon can teach us examples of God’s caring and careful genius — as these fine fish help fill the earth.
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain [i.e., clarify] unto you; who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
- Woodring, Molly. 2020. Good Luck, Young Salmon! Maine Audubon. Posted on MaineAudubon.org May 6, 2020.
- Job 12:7; Psalm 107:23-25. Regarding the salmon life cycle, as exhibiting God’s creative bioengineering, see Dr. Jobe Martin’s award-winning creation zoölogy DVD, Amazing Animals of Alaska (God’s Living Treasures, volume 2). Rockwall, TX: Biblical Discipleship Ministries. This creation science DVD is available at ICR.org/store.
- Dreves, Denis. 1996. Pacific Salmon, the Ocean’s High Achievers. Creation Ex Nihilo. 18(3):26-28. Republished at https://answersingenesis.org/aquatic-animals/fish/pacific-salmon/.
- Gilsland Farm Audubon Center is located in Falmouth, Massachusetts, near Portland. For decades it has hosted wetlands biome ecology research, birdwatching, and other field trip learning activities—an educational treasure trove for scientists and schoolchildren alike. This writer first observed Black-capped Chickadees, on May 31, A.D.1995 (at the Gilsland Farm Sanctuary, as it was then called), as part of presenting some Job 8:11-related wetland ecology research, at that year’s annual national meeting of the Society of Wetlands Scientists.
- Johnson, James J. S. 2015. The Moon Rules. Acts & Facts. 44(9): 21.
- Johnson, James J. S. 2020. Fish Farming Feeds Scots, But It’s Not Getting Easier. Science in the News. Posted on ICR.org April 21, 2020. Fish-farming, using managed coast water net-pens is one aquaculture method useful in fulfilling the Genesis Mandate. See Johnson, James J. S. 2013. Fulfilling the Genesis Mandate while Helping the Poor. Acts & Facts. 42(12):19.
- Matthew 14:17-19, 15:34-36; Mark 6:38-43, 8:7; Luke 9:13-16, 24:36-43; John 6:9-11, 21:9-13.
- Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13.
- Staff writer. How Saline Conditioning in Post-Smolts Can Help Prevent Winter Ulcers. The Fish Site. Posted on thefishsite.com June 23, 2020.
- Kraugerud, Reiden Lilleholt. 2020. Salt Water Acclimatisation Strengthens the Skin of Post-Smolt Atlantic Salmon. Nofima. Posted on nofima.no June 23, 2020. Nofima is 56.8%-owned by the Norwegian government’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Fisheries. Regarding Nofima’s research programs in aquaculture, fisheries, and seafood science, see https://nofima.no/en/about-us/ .
- Anadromous salmon (and anadromous rainbow trout, called “steelhead”) begin life in freshwater streams, survive a shocking salinity change as they migrate to oceanic saltwater, and then they brave a reverse version of salinity shock as they later return to their native freshwater streams to reproduce. Regarding Atlantic salmon’s natural life cycle, including the transition from freshwater stream into oceanic saltwater, see James J. S. Johnson, Salmon Young Take the Plunge in May. Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org May 13, 2020. Salmon are providentially designed and equipped to detect and depend upon photoperiodicity as phenological data, in order to physiologically time key changes within their life cycle sequences. See Johnson, James J. S. 2015. The Moon Rules. Acts & Facts. 44(9):21. See also Behnke, Robert J. and Joe R. Tomelleri. 2002. Trout and Salmon of North America (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster), page 7.
- Iglesias, Virginia. 2019. How to Optimise Smolt Survival at the Marine Transfer Stage. The Fish Site. Posted on thefishsite.com July 22, 2019.
- Salmon science is not new. Johnson, James. J. S. 2014. Fishy Science. Acts & Facts. 43(2):17.
- Tomkins, Jeffrey P. 2019. Intricate Animal Designs Demand a Creator. Acts & Facts. 48(7):14.
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