Why can seagulls drink salt water?

When people drink salt water, they don’t get it. Seagulls have no problem with that. Julia Rogatzki, a biology and chemistry student at the University of Rostock, knows why.

Castaways can die of thirst even though they are surrounded by water. This is when they don’t drink (because there is no fresh water) or when they can only drink salt water out of sheer desperation. “Gulls, penguins and other seabirds don’t have this problem,” says Julia Rogatzki, a student of biology and chemistry at the University of Rostock. “Gulls have special salt glands above their eyes that they use to desalinate their blood,” says the 22-year-old.

Water always flows where the salt concentration is higher. So, if a person drinks salt water, the water is withdrawn from the cells especially by the osmotic principle and is not delivered, because two liquids with different salt content try to balance each other. Cells dry out – at a certain point it becomes life-threatening.

Julia Rogatzki, student of biochemistry at the University of Rostock

Julia Rogatzki, biochemistry student at the University of Rostock Source: private

This is where the salt comes out of the nose

Even seagulls would lose their eyes without their “desalination plant”. “But they collect salt and excrete it from their nostrils as a salt concentrate that has up to 90 percent,” says the future biochemistry teacher. The salty secretion flows from the nostrils in a channel along the beak and drips. Read also

“If we drink small amounts of salt water, nothing happens.” The kidneys filter the salt and then it is excreted.

Klaus Amberger

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