No, crocodiles cannot live in the ocean. They swim in the ocean searching for food or new habitats, but they are not equipped to live in that environment.
Although saltwater crocodiles have glands that expel salt, they are semi-aquatic animals. They are neither amphibians nor marine animals. It is true that crocodiles can survive in full salinity water, but it is not their natural habitat.
Can crocodiles tolerate saltwater?
Yes, they can tolerate saltwater. Both crocodiles and alligators have salt glands—these are salt-excreting glands that expel salt from the water of their environment. In biology, these are called lingual salt glands.
The lingual salt glands are unique to crocodilians, and their main function is to expel sodium and chloride ions. The lingual salt glands are the reason crocodiles can live in brackish waters and travel in the ocean.
Related Article: Can saltwater crocodiles live in freshwater?
When and why do crocodiles swim in the ocean?
Crocodiles are poor swimmers compared to aquatic animals. The saltwater crocodile, however, commonly travels long distances in the sea. They have been documented to do this, and their method is not to swim but ride ocean currents.
In a research, scientists tracked 27 adult saltwater crocodiles. From the transmitters, they found out that both male and female crocs travel on the ocean regularly. They do this for more than 50 kilometers at a time.
The crocs come from their local habitats, like rivers, and then go to the open sea. Some traveled 590 kilometers for 25 days, while one traveled 411 kilometers in 20 days.
The study indicates that the crocs traveled just when the tide began to change. If the tides changed as the crocs are in mid-transit, they would find a riverbank and wait for a favorable tide.
But why do they do this? There is no scientific consensus as to why crocodiles travel. However, one good theory is that migrate in search of food and new territory.
It is this ability of the crocodiles that made it occupy so many places in the world. They moved and spread globally without diversifying so much.
Related Article: Do Crocodiles Eat Each Other?
Do crocodiles attack in the ocean?
Yes, they do. There is a report that a fisherman died off the coast of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka when a crocodile attacked him. There was also a report of a teenager on vacation in Puerto Vallarta who got attacked by a crocodile at night.
Then there is another incident where two men died while diving for sea cucumbers in the Solomon Islands. Again, the incident happened at night.
Although crocodile attacks are rare, it does happen. Depending on the crocodile species, the general consensus is that they would not rather have any interaction with humans.
However, the saltwater crocodile and the Nile crocodile are different from their species. The saltwater crocodile, or saltie, for one, is the biggest living crocodile species. Both the saltie and the Nile croc attack humans, even if unprovoked.
The scary thing about the saltie is that it travels in the ocean and will attack humans if hungry. There is a pervasive myth saying that crocodiles cannot open their mouths underwater. This myth is a dangerous thing to believe in.
Crocodiles can open their mouths underwater. They just cannot swallow because they can drown. They can open their mouths and bite, as they have a palatal valve that closes when they do this, and thus water will not come in.
Related Article: Do crocodiles eat sharks?
Why can’t crocodiles live in the ocean?
Crocodiles are not aquatic animals. They are only semi-aquatic. Unlike fish, crocodiles do not have gills, so they cannot breathe oxygen when underwater.
Whales and dolphins are different altogether. Like crocs, they do not have gills. However, they have high amounts of myoglobin to store oxygen in their blood and muscles. Crocodiles also have this ability, but not that much.
Besides, crocodiles are poor swimmers. Because of this, they would find it difficult to hunt underwater. And since they cannot swallow water or they will drown, they cannot live in the ocean permanently.
As far as hunting is concerned, they are better off stalking land animals by the riverbank and dragging them to drown.
Crocodiles love the water, but they must also regulate their temperature by basking under the sun, as they are cold-blooded reptiles. If they live in the ocean, they will die permanently.
What is a saltwater crocodile?
The saltwater crocodile is the biggest crocodile living today. Its scientific name is Crocodylusporosus. It is native to Southeast Asia, Micronesia, and Australia. The saltwater crocodile is not endangered, but it is threatened due to habitat loss.
As the largest croc, it can grow more than 20 feet and weigh up to 1,300 kilograms. It also comes by many names such as the estuarine crocodiles, Indo-Pacific crocodile, and marine crocodile. Although some call it the sea crocodile, it does not live in the sea.
Saltwater crocodile facts
Here are some quick facts about the saltwater crocodile:
- They are the biggest crocodiles in the world
- The average length of a saltie is 23 feet, and the average weight is 1,000 kilograms
- They have about 66 teeth; they also have the most powerful bite pressure in the world at 3,700 pounds per square inch
- They are saltwater crocodiles because they live in estuaries and other marine environments, but not in the ocean or the sea.
- Saltwater crocodiles have a life span of 70 years.
- As opportunistic feeders, many crocs hunt animals drinking in the river or crossing it; they rarely attack humans, but the saltwater and Nile crocodiles do.
- Saltwater crocodiles communicate with a variety of sounds like hissing and even chirping.
Crocodiles are versatile semi-aquatic animals. However, they cannot live underwater. They can travel long distances in the ocean, but they do not swim the distance. They just ride the waves. Crocodiles have lingual salt glands that expel salt, and it is why they can stay in saltwater for long periods of time. It is this ability that allowed them to spread throughout the world.