Editor's Picks

13 January 2012

An Eelectric Wonder - The Eel

Did You Know...?

  • it wasn't until 1745 that the first prototype capacitor was built while electricity was being used for defense, navigation and weaponry in prehistoric times?
  • there are over two hundred species of aquatic creatures that use electric signals for self-defense and hunting?
  • the electric eel can discharge up to 1,000 volts of electricity at one ampere, enough to kill small animals outright?
  • that while the adult electric eel cannot see, it has no problems finding its way around and catching fish?
  • the electric eel can discharge over 600 volts at will, several times per second in 3-millisecond bursts and recharge all the electric cells in one millisecond?
  • that a person can withstand one of these electrical discharges, but not several?
  • that the electric eel is not an eel but a fish?
  • that that the electric eel, though a fish, must surface for air no less than every 15 minutes or it would drown?
Eel-ectricity Came First

Around 600 BC, the Greeks found that by rubbing amber (a hard petrified resin) against a piece of fur it would attract particles of straw. This strange effect remained a mystery for over 2000 years. Then, around 1600 AD, Dr. William Gilbert coined the word “electric” in a report involving investigations of the reactions of amber and magnets. His experiments led to a number of investigations by many pioneers in the development of electrical technology over the next 350 years.

Finally, in 1745, it was discovered that electricity could be stored in a Leyden (a jar partly filled with water with a wire inserted through a cork into the water). The cork was used to seal the jar. The exposed wire was then brought into contact with a friction device, which produced static electricity and charged the jar. The jar was later coated with sheets of metal foil. This became the first prototype for capacitors, widely used in electronic devices today.

A few years later began the pioneering efforts involving the practical use of electricity, which we now take for granted.

However, thousands—perhaps millions—of years earlier, electricity was being used very efficiently in the Amazon basin of South America and elsewhere. It was being used for communication, navigation, self-defense and weaponry.

No, this is not about aliens from some other planet, but rather a long-time resident of planet earth: the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus).

A member of the carp or catfish family, the electric eel is one of over 200 species equipped with a bioelectric organ for making electricity. The nearest high-voltage record holder in the group is the electric catfish, which can discharge up to 450 volts of electricity. The electric eel can produce currents of one ampere at 600 to 1,000 volts—sufficient power to operate a toaster!

Long, long before the world's first hydroelectric central station at Vulcan Street Plant, Appleton, Wisconsin in 1882, this long, cylindrical, scaleless, gray brown creature was fully equipped with no less than three highly efficient generating plants. (If there be no intelligent design behind creation, how is this possible? How did the electric eel even know how to begin to equip itself with the right devises to actually make electric power in its body? What unguided chance could produce such eel-ectric wonders?

The Eel-ectric System

The eel's electrical system is composed of three parts. The main voltage plant is called the large electric organ. Another organ, called the organ of Hunter, is still somewhat of a mystery, although scientists believe that in some way it works with the large electric organ. A third organ, called the bundle of Sachs, is the power plant for the eel's radar transmitters.

Why does the eel need a radar system? Actually, it would be quite helpless either to navigate or hunt food without it, because the adult electric eel is blind. But even if it could see, visibility in the muddy waters of the Amazon basin, where the electric eel is native, is very near zero. So the Creator has equipped the eel with a remarkable radar system making it possible for the eel to navigate safely and find food without the aid of sight.

How does it locate and capture the frogs, fish and crustaceans that are its main source of food? The electric eel generates low voltage pulses from its bundle of Sachs. The electrical pulses strike any nearby object and bounce back to several special electroreceptors located on the forward part of the eel. By processing these signals, the eel can know precisely where objects are located and what they are. Is a tasty meal, such as a fish, within range? Boom! The eel emits a large burst of electrical energy, and the prey is either killed or stunned. Then, using its radar system, it quickly swims to the location of its meal and swallows it whole.

It is reported that even horses have been stunned by the eel's electrical discharge, falling into the water and drowning. Smaller animals have been killed outright. It is said that a human can withstand one electrical pulse but will succumb if the charge is repeated.

Eel-ectric Organs—How They Work

The eel's vital organs are located just behind the head, and just behind the vital organs lies its electrical equipment. Not surprising, the electric organs make up most of its forty-plus pounds and about four-fifths of its length (eels can be up to 9 feet long).

How does the eel generate so much electricity? The large electric organ contains many thousands of tiny cells called electroplates. These cells are said to be similar to battery cells. Each tiny cell stores a potential of 150 millivolts. To generate 1,000 volts would require more than 6500 cells connected in series. To generate 1 amp would require more than 50 of these series circuits connected in parallel.

Do you want to try building a replica of the eel's electrical equipment so that you can truly appreciate what “evolution” produced? To begin, you will need about 700,000 tiny flashlight batteries with small wires, being careful to connect plus to negative. If you used a common D size flashlight battery, your chain will be nearly 2000 feet long— excluding wire length! (If your assembly is to be a size suitable to fit inside the adult eel, you will have to reduce the size of each battery to less than the diameter of a human hair.)

You now have a replica of the eel's basic single series circuit capable of emitting 1,000 volts. However, your miniature circuit will not have nearly enough current to equal the eel's. To increase the current to one amp you must construct another of these assemblies identical to your first one (having 10,000 battery cells), then connect the two together, positive end to posivite end and negative end to negative end. Now you have what circuit designers call a “series-parallel circuit,” i.e., two series circuits connected in parallel. Continue building and connecting these circuits until you have added 68 more assemblies to your replica.

You now have a battery pack similar in capability to that which the Creator has enclosed in the tail section of the healthy adult electric eel (i.e., 700,000 tiny cells connected in a series-parallel circuit capable of producing 1,000 volts at 1 amp).

Of course, your replica is very much over simplified, and would hardly touch the complexity of the electric organs of the amazing creature of the Amazon.

Now think: if you were to set up such an electrical system, composed of 700,000 tiny cells all connected and able to generate power, wouldn't you want some credit for your work? And will you say that the lowly eel was able to develop all this marvelous mechanism on its own, unaided, by blind chance?

It would be simple enough to connect a few thousand batteries or capacitors in a series-parallel circuit. But you have a lot more “wiring” to do before you have an electric eel. If you would approximate the eel's capability, you must design and connect to your setup a special charger device so that you can recharge this “battery pack” in a millionth of a second without overheating or short-circuiting. Then you need thousands of electronic switches that are required for charging and then discharging at a desired rate (several times per second). Sound complicated? You still need to design and wire a central station to control all this maze of circuitry, as well as a very sophisticated radar system which works with the system.

Are we ready to give credit to God for a work of engineering far surpassing our understanding?

The Eel's Radar System

The adult electric eel, though blind, has no problems finding its way around and locating food in the murky waters of the Amazon because our Creator has equipped it with a s tate-of-art radar system. The radar system consists of a smaller “battery pack” for generating radar pulses. The eel sends out radar pulses at will, the pulses bounce off any object in the vicinity of the electric eel, and are received back by several electroreceptors along the top and forward part of the eel. Even the eel's head is optimally shaped for this task— the head is slanted downward at such an angle as provides good reception from three directions-above, front and both sides (was this special design left to the eel?). When the electrical pulse strikes an object, the signal reflected back to the eel is processed so precisely that the eel is able to know exactly where an object is, its size and construction, perhaps even more precisely than it would know if it could “see” it.

The electrical pulses are also used for communication with other eels. The dominant males make the loudest and most frequent emissions.

Who Designed It?

Assuming we had the technology to design and build such a system as the electric organs and their controls inside the electric eel, how many accumulated years do you suppose it would take for a team of chemical and electronic engineers to design, build and test a prototype that would equal the capabilities of the electric eel? (Hint: it requires months of accumulated time to turn out a prototype for just a rechargeable emergency light capable of regulating battery discharge and recharge with brownout capability.) This does not consider the months invested in the development and assembly of the individual electronic and mechanical components that the engineers already have at hand.

When the engineers are given an assignment, they have lots of theory already in mind about how to design and build the prototype. An intelligent designer is required to put it all together and make it work. The evolutionist, on the other hand, claims that the earth and all life evolved, that is, came into being by natural selection, by ever so slight hereditary changes. Look again at the electric eel. How did it get all those thousands of tiny electric cells with the electronic switches and nerve fibers connecting them? How is it that all those tiny cells can be recharged in a fraction of a second without failing?

Where did it get its navigation system, the radar system and the powerful processor to keep all these parts working in harmony without overheating or short circuiting— a major problem in designing power supplies today? This same processor also collects data from the various muscle and nerve cells in the eel's body and processes it to incredible accuracy and, in turn, sends signals to all the various parts, all automatically without any effort on the part of the electric eel! And if the electric eel did not have radar equipment by which it could know up from down it would drown in about 15 minutes15—because, though a fish, it must surface for air due to the low oxygen content of the murky waters where it lives.

Did it all just fall into place by selective hereditary evolution? What did the eel do while its electrical system was being perfected? How was the direction for development kept on course for all the billions of years claimed to develop such a marvel? Random chance seems to dictate that it would not stay on course. Would even billions of years be enough time for such a thing to occur?

I think our question regarding the electric eel has only one answer: there is an intelligent Creator who designed it, formed it and gave it life.

It is said that it can't be proved that there is a God, an all-powerful, omniscient creator.

Yet, when we look about us, the evidence speaks for itself. There is a God, a Creator, an organizer, an intelligent being over all! God is far greater than the scientist's laboratory. Yet, even there, if one looks close enough, they can see evidence of His creative genius in complexity, design and harmony far beyond our ability to understand.

"There are signs for the believing nation in the creation of their (own) selves, and the creation of the animals He has scattered (across the world)." [Quran 45:4]
1 Gilbert's experiments led to a number of investigations by many pioneers in the development of electricity technology over the next 350 years (Code Check ©1998 by Redwood Kardon, http://www.codecheck.com/pp_elect.html
2 Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica
3 www.wikipedia
4, 5, 6 Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica
7 Vulcan Street Plant, 1882- September 30, 1882, the world's first hydroelectric central station began operation
8 Dr. Erwin Moon (1959), Moody Institute of Science Video
9 (Site No Longer Available)
10 © Copyright 1997 Virtual Science Centre Project Team, (Website No Longer Available)
11 Small animals within range are killed outright, while large mammals may become dazed and drown, Pittsburgh Zoo Wildlife
12 Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica
13 “There are about seventy columns of electroplates along each side of the body and each column contains from six thousand to ten thousand plates,” a total of 420,000 to 700,000 electroplates or electroplaques. “As most of the electroplates are connected in series, their charges, like those of a series of batteries, add up to produce a large voltage. Each electroplate contributes 150 millivolts. Like all-powerful electric organs, those of the electric eel produce brief bursts of pulses, each pulse lasting three milliseconds, the bursts being repeated several times in one second. The nerves supplying the electric organs are fired by a command center in the brain, so releasing the charges of the electroplates”-The Creationist Zone, (Site No Longer Available)
14, 15 © Copyright 1997, Virtual Science Centre Project Team (Site No Longer Available)

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