Are There Animals in the Dead Sea?

No animals can be seen in the Dead Sea, at least at a first glance. However, this place hides some surprises that are worth knowing about.
Are There Animals in the Dead Sea?

Last update: 20 August, 2021

On this planet there are many areas with extreme conditions, and, even so, they still harbor life. This is also the case with the animals that live in the Dead Sea. The main characteristic of this environment is its extremely high concentration of salt, 10 times greater than that of inland seas, such as the Mediterranean.

This hypersalinity is due to the fact that it isn’t really a sea. It would be more accurate to speak of a “large lake”, as it’s surrounded by land on all sides. As the waters of the Jordan River flow into it but have nowhere to continue flowing, the water evaporates, leaving only the salt. So, how can there possibly be life in these conditions? Discover the answer here.

How did the Dead Sea get its name?

The Dead Sea, also known as the “Sea of Salt” in Hebrew ( Yam Hamélaj ) or al-Baḥr al-Mayyit in Arabic, is an endorheic lake. This means that it only evaporates water through its surface, as it doesn’t have any natural drains nor can it do so by infiltration.

It occupies the deepest part of a tectonic depression crossed by the Jordan River, between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and is 435 meters below sea level. Due to the very high concentration of salt, the density of the Dead Sea water is 1240 kg / m³, which makes it impossible for a person to sink in it (the main reason for tourism in the area).

Due to climate change and the extraction of fresh water, the water level of the Dead Sea drops one meter a year and the banks sink 15 centimeters (6 invhes) at the same annual rate.

The origin of its name is found in ancient texts, although it was known under the designation of the “hidden sea”. It’s mentioned in the Bible, which designates it as the Sea of Arabah or the East Sea. On some occasions, this place was described as the Sea of Death, due to the absence of life that in its vicinity. Since then, that name has been maintained.

Are there any animals in the Dead Sea?

It’s easy to assume that nothing could survive in this environment, life always finds a way, even in the most inclement environments. When the proper means were found to explore it thoroughly, animals were discovered in the Dead Sea – animals capable of surviving its hypersalinity.

Actually, one should speak of quasi-salinity, as the minerals that predominate in this lake are calcium, potassium, magnesium and bromine. It’s actually quite low in sodium.

Although macroscopic life is scarce here, this sea isn’t entirely dead. In the following paragraphs, you can find out which animals live in this lake and how they survive the adverse conditions.

Crustaceans

Although there aren’t any animals such as fish and amphibians in this place, there is a species that has adapted to living in its waters: the brine shrimp (Artemia salina). It’s a brachiopod crustacean that measures about one centimeter in its adult stage. It has 3 eyes and 11 pairs of legs, with which it swims through the waters.

To give you an idea of the adaptability of brine shrimp, their eggs can remain metabolically inactive for long periods of time (even up to 10 years) if the conditions aren’t suitable for hatching. Once hatched, the larvae and adults feed on phytoplankton.

Eggs can resist even when there’s a total absence of water and oxygen and at temperatures below freezing. This feature is known as cryptobiosis or diapause.

One of the inhabitants of the Dead Sea is the brine shrimp.

Birds

The largest animals we can see in the Dead Sea are birds. This lake is a way station for the migration of storks (Ciconia ciconia)and some species of pelicans also come to its waters, which feed on the brine shrimp.

Another bird found in the vicinity of this ecosystem is the Dead Sea sparrow (Passer moabiticus), a passerine about 10-12 centimeters (4-5 inches) long. It can also be seen in the vicinity of the Jordan River, Cyprus, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Like many other birds, it feeds mainly on seeds.

A Dead Sea Sparrow.

Is there more life in the Dead Sea?

There are more species in the Dead Sea, although they aren’t visible without the aid of a microscope. The most abundant life forms in this lake are halophilic microorganisms, named for their ability to survive in aquatic environments with a high concentration of saline minerals. Among those that live there are, the following stand out:

  • Ciliated protozoa: These are microscopic unicellular organisms that live in humid environments. Their cilia allow them to move through the water column.
  • Bacteria: Such as Chromohalobacter israelensis and others of the Flavobacterium and Halococcus genera.
  • Microscopic algae.
  • Fungi: Such as E. Rubrum, which has appeared in recent research as a possible solution to hunger, as its ability to live in saline waters would make it possible to irrigate it with seawater.

Although the Dead Sea seems to have a somewhat undeserved name, it’s true that its biological diversity is far below that of other ecosystems. If we add to this the human impact on its environment (climate change, the diversion of the Jordanian waters, and the extraction of water from the lake), it’s possible that one day the Dead Sea will end up dying for real.

The disappearance of the Dead Sea would be a real disaster for the adjacent regions, as it’s an important source of tourism and income.

The importance of conserving ecosystems, no matter how extreme they may be, is demonstrated day by day with the important discoveries that researchers make. Quite often, what these places have to teach us can contribute to the conservation of our very own species. Because of this, protecting them could be a double victory.

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