Q: #217. Could Noah's Ark really hold all of those animals?
A: I am no scholar on this matter, but let me try and explain what those who are say. According to the Bible, the Ark was 300 X 50 X 30 cubits (Gen 6:15). A cubit in Bible times is believed to have been about the length of the average forearm or around 17″-22″. If we make a cubit 18″ (a foot and a half), then the Ark would be 450′ X 75′ X 45′. (Obviously, if a cubit was longer than this, then the Ark was even bigger.) This means the Ark would be about 1.5 million cubic feet.
A lot of people compare this volume to the equivalent in modern railroad cars and say it is equal to anywhere from 520-570 cars. It is said that each car could hold 240 sheep. I actually remember seeing lots of cattle cars (stock cars) when I was younger, growing up in the midwest. They were big, but I don’t remember how big, so I did some digging in old newspapers online to find out. Most were (are) about 40′ long, 8’6″ wide, and 8′ high. Could a car this size hold 240 sheep? Well, I also did some digging on the size of a sheep… (you can’t imagine how fun that is). It turns out your average sheep appears to be about 2’6″ long, 1’4″ wide, and 2’2″ high. Doing a little basic math, you could fit about 27 sheep lengthwise, and 3 sheep widthwise (with a little room to spare for comfort) for a total of 81 sheep on the floor. However, based on the height of 8′, you could stack them on 3 levels, based on the sheep’s height of 2’2″ (times 3= 6’6″). Therefore, you have 81 sheep times 3 levels equals 243. So, the 240 sheep figure seems accurate, with a little room to spare.
The most important factor is, how many animals had to go on the Ark? There are ALL kinds of opinions on this! The Bible says that Noah was to take “by sevens” every kind of clean animal and bird, and “by two” every unclean animal (male and female) (Gen 7:1-3). There is some debate as to whether or not the “sevens” means 7 total animals or 7 pairs of animals. Most scholars agree that it simply means seven total animals and the language, “by seven” “by two” makes it sound like this is the case. Reasons for the “seven” are likely because they would later be food for man (Gen 9:3-4), so they needed to repopulate more quickly (I do not believe meat was eaten before the flood: see Q: #45), and so Noah would later have animals for sacrifices to God (Gen 8:20).
Next, it is important to know that the Bible says in (Gen 7:14-15) that “all flesh in which was the breath of life” was brought onto the Ark. (Gen 7:22) goes on to say that “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was on the dry land, died” in the flood. From these verses, we learn 3 important things. All of the creatures on the Ark had the “breath of life,” breathed through their “nostrils,” and lived on dry land. This eliminates the need to have thousands (perhaps millions) of species on the Ark.
Those who breathe through nostrils have lungs. Insects do not have nostrils or lungs.(Insects absorb oxygen through their skin, through a series of breathing holes or tracheal tubes located in their chest or abdomen.) So, the million or so species of insects were not on the Ark. (See Q: #216 for more on how they survived) Nearly all sea creatures don’t have nostrils and none live on “dry land” (although some do spend time short periods of time on land, i.e. turtles), so they wouldn’t have been on the Ark. This eliminates thousands more species. In fact, of all the species in the world, 97% are invertebrates. None of these breathe through “nostrils,” so they would not have been on the Ark. This leaves vertebrates, which made up the remaining 3% of all species. It is estimated that there are about 50,000 species of vertebrates. There are 5 categories of vertebrates: reptiles, mammals, amphibians, birds, and fish. Of vertebrates, about half are species of fish (25,000), so these were not on the Ark.
This leaves about 25,000 species which could have been on the Ark. If these were taken by 2’s aboard the Ark, it would total 50,000 animals. As we said above though, “7” of the “clean” animals and birds were taken aboard. There are about 10,000 species of birds. If 7 of each species was taken aboard, it would total 70,000 birds. However, since the purpose of the “7’s” was likely so man would have animals for food and sacrifice after the flood, I believe that this extended to birds as well. Therefore, it would not be 7 of ALL bird species, but rather, 7 of all CLEAN bird species. This is logical since man could neither eat nor sacrifice unclean animals. There are very few bird species that the Bible calls clean (or “kosher” as Jews would say). Of the birds listed in the Bible, there more than twice as many unclean birds as clean birds. Based on all of this, I am going to say that 3,000 species were clean, so 7 X 3000 = 21,000 clean birds and 2 X 7000 = 14,000 unclean birds. Total, 35,000 total birds taken aboard.
I searched and searched to get an idea of how many “clean” animals there could have been at the time of the Ark, but found no real answers. However, the list of unclean animals in the Bible outnumbers the list of clean animals, by at least 3 to 1. Therefore, I am going to carry out this percentage to say that of the remaining 15,000 other species that could have been on the Ark (25,000 – 10,000 bird species), only one-fourth or about 3,700 were clean or 3,700 X 7 = 25,900. So, for a total we have, 46,900 clean animals and 22,600 unclean animals (25,000 – 10,000 – 3,700 = 11,300 X 2 = 22,600) equaling 69,500 total animals on the Ark.
But wait, we have one more thing to consider. Remember the 5 categories of vertebrates we have: reptiles, mammals, amphibians, birds, and fish? We have eliminated the fish, and calculated the birds, leaving all of the reptiles, mammals, and amphibians in our species total. As we mentioned above though, a number of these are sea creatures, so they would not have been on the Ark. Dolphins, whales, porpoises, and manatees are all mammals and live exclusively in the water, so they can be excluded from the species total on the Ark. Sea lions, sea otters, seals, and walrus’ are also mammals that can survive in the sea, so they can also be excluded. Many reptiles can live in the sea as well i.e. turtles, alligators, crocodiles, and some snakes. Numerous amphibians could also live in the sea on floating vegetation such as frogs and toads. This is just a partial list of some of the vertebrates that could have been left off of the Ark. As far as I can tell, pretty much every one (maybe all) of these remaining animals were unclean. Therefore, let’s take our unclean animal total of 11,300 on the Ark down to an even 10,000. This makes a total of 20,000 unclean animals on the Ark (10,000 X 2 = 20,000) and 46,900 clean animals, for a grand total of 66,900 total animals on the Ark.
So, was the Ark big enough to hold 66,900 animals? If we take our figures from above, that the Ark’s volume was equal to the capacity of 520 (low figure) stock cars, and each stock car could hold 243 sheep, then the Ark could hold 126,360 sheep! Therefore, they would take up only 53% of the total room on the Ark! However, this is assuming that ALL of the animals on the Ark were the size of a sheep. In reality, most scholars believe that only about 10% of the animals were the size of a sheep or bigger. In addition, most of what would be larger land animals (like elephants or dinosaurs, yes I believe they were around then: see: Q: #3) almost certainly were not taken aboard as full grown adults, but rather, as children. Taking these things into account, this obviously GREATLY reduces the amount of room needed for animals on the Ark. This would leave plenty of room for food, water, and other supplies needed for their year’s journey on the Ark.
I should add here that my figure of 66,900 animals is pretty far above what most scholars believe is the total number of animals on the Ark. Most decrease this number by at least 20,000-40,000, believing there were either less species or less species taken aboard. (My higher figure gives more room for extinct species too.) Some reduce the number taken aboard by saying that the phrase God used in (Gen 6:20, 7:14) “after their kind,” doesn’t refer to individual “species” of animals, but rather, a larger category of animals, like a “genera.” All “species” of animals fall under this larger category “genera” (family, genera, species in order). It is said that from this larger category could come many species from one pair. For example, from one pair of dog-like animals (a genera) could come many species: dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, etc… over time. I do not hold this viewpoint because, as a creationist, it starts to tread into evolution.
One last thing I would like to point out is that God performed many miracles in the Bible to accomplish His purposes. He did this with Noah, bringing animals to the Ark from all over, and then leading them into the Ark (Gen 6:20, 7:9,15). While the Bible doesn’t say this, God could have done other such things as lessen the hunger or thirst of the animals so they would need less, had them sleep more, maybe put some in hibernation. He could have kept them calm to make things easier. Any number of miraculous things could have happened. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is 100% accurate and true. History and science has shown its accuracy over and over. The flood DID occur and the account of Noah’s Ark is true (Jesus: Mt 24:36-39 and Peter: 1 Pet 3:20, 2 Pet 2:5 confirmed this thousands of years later). EXACTLY how every detail occurred is unclear, but there is clearly evidence that it did happen.
For answers related to this topic, see:
Q: #44. Did it rain before the flood?
Q: #109. What do rainbows symbolize in the Bible?
Q: #217. Could Noah’s Ark really hold all of those animals?
Q: #402. How many children did Noah have?