The science of Aquaman

When it comes to powers, he's no Superman. And he lacks Batman's popularity. But at the Southern Fried Science blog, perennial also-ran superhero Aquaman is at least able to inspire some fascinating discussion of science.

Marine biologist Andrew Thaler is on his second post about the science of Aquaman. Besides being just fascination information about the ocean and the creatures that live there, the posts also build a pretty good case for why we—the comic-book reading public—should care about Aquaman in the first place.

If Superman existed to show us how high the human spirit could fly, and Batman to show us the darkness within even our most noble, Aquaman is here to show us the world that triumphs in our absence. The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land, but Aquaman has. Through this lonely ocean wanderer, we can experience a world that we can never truly command.

...Aquaman is, for all intents and purposes, a marine mammal. And, with the exception of a healthy mane in later incarnations, he is effectively hairless. As a human, we would expect his internal body temperature to hover around 99°F, or about 37°C. Even at its warmest points, the surface temperature of the ocean around the equator is only about 80°F/27°C. At the poles ocean temperature can actually drop a few degrees below freezing. In the deep sea, ambient temperature levels out around 2 – 4°C. The ocean is cold, and water is a much better thermal conductor than air. Warm blooded species have evolved many different systems to manage these gradients, including countercurrent heat exchangers, insulating fur, and heavy layers of blubber.

Aquaman is not just a human, he is an incredibly buff human. Look at his picture. If the man has more than 2% body fat, I’d be shocked. In contrast, warm-water bottlenose dolphins have at least 18 to 20% body fat. Anyone who SCUBA dives knows that, even with a 12 millimeter neoprene wet suit, after a few hours in 80°F water, you get cold. Aquaman, lacking any visible insulation, should have slipped into hypothermia sometime early in More Fun Comics #73. He is better built for the beach than the frigid deep.

Read on for ocean science, superpowers you didn't even know existed, and quotes from Byron.

And here's part 2

Edit: This is actually the third time Andrew Thaler has written about the science of Aquaman. Here's the post I missed.

Via David Manly


          1. Sub-mariner round up:

            Friends or no, his mama named him Namor.

            He was never that popular in-universe, because he’s a jerk. He was a jerk during the war, he was a jerk during the Silver Age, he was jerk when he was a Defender, king of Atlantis, and in general. He is a tough guy to like. No social skills. He did have a side-kick for a little while. Subbie. Yes, Subbie. Go on, get it out of your system.

            In 90s there was a Marvel vs. DC cross-over event. One-on-One, cross-universe fights, with fans voting on the outcome. Marvel won overall, but the Namor/Aquaman fight came out with Aquaman on top. And Namor trapped under a very large whale. See, it pays be social.

          2. There was an old cartoon show that featured various Marvel superheroes. The thing I remember most about it was the catchy theme-songs for each character.

            Namor of Atlantis was always my favorite, probably because at that age I wanted to be a marine biologist. But while he was standoffish and didn’t associate much with humans in that cartoon he took his job as prince and defender of Atlantis very seriously.

            Here’s his theme song:


    1. Yeah, those foppish little wings on Namor’s ankles make him look so cool. And they make total sense, too! Hard to believe that he hasn’t had his own summer blockbuster yet.

  1. I’ve never really read Aquaman comics but I’ve always been a little curious about his diet. If it includes fish (as one might expect for an aquatic creature with such high metabolism) then wouldn’t it be a little weird to eat a creature you might have conversed with earlier that day? Also: does he only eat raw food, does he come to the surface to cook his meals, or does he somehow cook it via volcanic thermal vents?

  2. I always thought Aquaman never got a fair shake because he just doesn’t fit in the superhero mold. You don’t usually see Batman and Superman traveling underwater (unless it’s a contrived excuse to bring in Aquaman).

    Still, he’s King Arthur, Dr. Doolittle, and Jasques Cousteau all in one. And since it’s a comic, you can also toss in aliens, elder gods, and anything else that could potentially be in the deepest, unexplored, underwater continents. Oh, andunderwater everyone effectively “flies”.

    Mediocre super-hero, IDEAL pulp hero. How do you mess that up?

    1. You don’t usually see Batman and Superman traveling underwater (unless it’s a contrived excuse to bring in Aquaman).

      Let’s face it, other than leaking industrial pollution or illegal fishing there are very few crimes one could commit underwater. Even whalers generally stick to the surface.

      1. Considering that there’s a complete underwater civilization down there, about the only crime that’s really uncommon should be arson.

  3. Flashed on the screen before the Rifftrax presentation of House On Haunted Hill:

    Do you think when Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolfman get together they refer to the Creature From The Black Lagoon as “the Aquaman of Universal monsters”?

  4. This scientist is ignoring the fact that Namor isn’t human. Yes, if he were human he would probably suffer from hypothermia. Come to think of it, if he were human, he would probably drown after an hour underwater and would not have survived the 25 centuries from the fall of Atlantis.

    This is bad science. It is ignoring the objective facts given as narrative axioms in the fictional universe. There is an unnamed factor that allows for Aquaman’s exploits and it is disingenuous to call it bad science or inconsistent.

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