WootBot


quality posts: 15 Private Messages WootBot

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June is the time of year the United Nations observes World Oceans Day and the U.S. celebrates National Oceans Month, so we’ve asked Skipper Ken Jennings to navigate us through four maritime myths that refuse to die. It turns out that none of them really hold water.

Ocean Myth #4: Stranded at Sea, You Should Drink Seawater in Small Quantities.

In 1952, a French biologist named Alain Bombard decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a small inflatable boat almost entirely without provisions. He hoped to test theories and discover techniques that could one day save the lives of other unfortunates finding themselves, as it were, in the same boat. In particular, Bombard believed that drinking seawater could sustain life, as long as the drinker wasn’t already too dehydrated, and could limit his intake to less than a pint and a half a day.

Bombard survived the journey, though not without misadventures, and as a result of his account (and those of other ocean castaways unable to resist the “water, water everywhere” surrounding their craft) it became conventional wisdom that the lost-at-sea could prolong their lives on small quantities of seawater. For a time, some Navy and Air Force survival manuals even included this advice.

But it’s terrible advice, potentially fatally so. Seawater is about three times more saline than human blood, which means that body is going to have to get rid of that extra salt somehow to keep functioning. The mechanism to do that: urination, which has the unfortunate side effect of dehydrating you even more and making you want more seawater. It’s a vicious circle, which soon leads to diarrhea, seizures, brain damage, and finally kidney failure and death. So how did Bombard and other ocean-drinkers survive? A German doctor named Hannes Lindemann, who tried to duplicate Bombard’s journey, decided that Bombard must have supplemented his saltwater regimen with secret reserves of freshwater. Whether or not that’s true, Bombard’s seawater diet may not have killed him, but it certainly wasn’t keeping him hydrated. Castaways who survive while drinking seawater would have survived anyway—and probably with their kidneys in better shape. Besides, to paraphrase W. C. Fields: “Fish poop in it.”

Quick Quiz: The recently reunited rock band Veruca Salt is named after a character from what book?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

mossygreen


quality posts: 72 Private Messages mossygreen

Well, I'm still up, so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl it is.

notstarman


quality posts: 0 Private Messages notstarman

You can survive drinking water with more salt dissolved that the osmotic potential of your blood. Any animal with a functional loop of Henle can. The problem has more to do with the kind of salts in your water. Salt water contains far more magnesium than the human body can absorb. The excess magnesium in the water leads osmotic colitis(swelling of the small and large intestines) which can/will cause the progressive death of the bowls and loss of electrolyte hemostasis. This causes the other symptoms you discussed.

cappo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages cappo

From what I've heard, it's possible to suppliment whatever supply of water you already have with seawater by mixing it, but only to a certain point. I can't remember how much, but it wasn't a lot. Maybe 1 part seawater to... 4 parts pure water? 8? I forget.

No idea if it's actually beneficial to do so, however. If you have the supplies, I guess a solar still is probably the better way to go.


ndaipori


quality posts: 1 Private Messages ndaipori

"Veruca Salt, the little brute,
Has just gone down the garbage chute,
(And as we very rightly thought
That in a case like this we ought
To see the thing completely through,
We've polished off her parents, too.)
Down goes Veruca! Down the drain!
And here, perhaps, we should explain
That she will meet, as she descends,
A rather different set of friends
To those that she has left behind–
These won't be nearly so refined.
A fish head, for example, cut
This morning from a halibut.
'Hello! Good morning! How d'you do?
How nice to meet you! How are you?'
And then a little further down
A mass of others gather round:
A bacon rind, some rancid lard,
A loaf of bread gone stale and hard,
A steak that nobody could chew,
An oyster from an oyster stew,
Some liverwurst so old and gray
One smelled it from a mile away,
A rotten nut, a reeky pear,
A thing the cat left on the stair,
And lots of other things as well,
Each with a rather horrid smell.
These are Veruca's new found friends
That she will meet as she descends,
And this is the price she has to pay
For going so very far astray.
But now, my dears, we think you might
Be wondering–is it really right
That every single bit of blame
And all the scolding and the shame
Should fall upon Veruca Salt?
Is she the only one at fault?
For though she's spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can't spoil herself, you know.
Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
Who pandered to her every need?
Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that?
Alas! You needen't look so far
To find out who these sinners are.
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.
And that is why we're glad they fell
Into the garbage chute as well."

Love that book and movie! Danny Elfman nailed the songs. Never heard of the band before, though...

fzeppelin


quality posts: 3 Private Messages fzeppelin

Veruca Salt has also been known to sing with Blue Man Group. :-)

NemoMac


quality posts: 0 Private Messages NemoMac

Heh, I always thought it was common knowledge to NOT drink Seawater.

I guess the myth debunked here for me was my assumption that everyone knew that. Turns out some people think Seawater can be drank!

I hope that if I am ever lost at sea with those people, I can convince them to drink Seawater and leave the Freshwater for me... :-P

"When life hands you lemons, look around for a bottle of tequila and a shaker of salt!"

j-o-h-n


quality posts: 4 Private Messages j-o-h-n
cappo wrote:From what I've heard, it's possible to suppliment whatever supply of water you already have with seawater by mixing it, but only to a certain point. I can't remember how much, but it wasn't a lot. Maybe 1 part seawater to... 4 parts pure water? 8? I forget.

No idea if it's actually beneficial to do so, however. If you have the supplies, I guess a solar still is probably the better way to go.



Maybe Bombard secretly mixed salt water and urine.

Higher prices AND crappier blanks, no thank you

raid25nd


quality posts: 0 Private Messages raid25nd

Ok, so can I, or can't I, drink the sea water when I'm lost at sea? Maybe a salt water enema? I saw that on TV, so it's gotta be true.

twiztedcajun


quality posts: 0 Private Messages twiztedcajun

I think I saw this on Mythbusters, but I can't be sure. Couldn't he have used some sort of condensation device? Where he filled a container with the salt water, let it naturally evaporate and have the condensation run down to another container to hold the fresh water? It would be a rather slow and painful process, but it could be done. Granted the water would be rather warm to drink, but it wouldn't have the salt in it as it would be left behind in the other container. I don't remember the exact process they did, but I remember something with a bowl and plastic wrap.

Btw, Verruca Salt is in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.