Mammal science flowers under golden showers

July 2, 2014 

Apparently, according to an article in Sunday’s News Tribune, no matter a mammal’s size, it takes about 21 seconds to empty its bladder. A chihuahua or an elephant, a mouse or me – we are united by an equation that meshes bladder size, flow rate and other variables to equal 21 seconds for a satisfying total evacuation.

Ever since reading this bit of useful erudition, my life has changed. My significant other worries about my carrying a stopwatch every time I trot off to the toilet. Men using the urinals next to me seem self-conscious when I am transparently listening to their progress, clicking the watch on when the first splash hits the water and clicking it off when the sibilance ceases.

Women walking their dogs seem disconcerted by my rapt interest in their pets’ micturition. Words such as “weird,” “perverted,” “depraved,” “warped” and “creepy” escape their mouths as I stare intently at their dogs’ private parts, my thumb cocked to record the precise duration of their urination.

Philosophical and age-related concerns bedevil my fixation. What precisely constitutes the act of peeing? Does it start with the first effluvia emerging, even if it’s the tiny spurt denoting bashful kidneys? What of the dog, wolf, cat or ferret that is simply marking territory? Where is the demarcation between spraying and peeing?

And what about age-related problems? In decades of attendance at ballgames and concerts, the one rule I’ve arrived at is that whichever line you get in, at least three of the men ahead of you will having crippling prostate problems. Can you count them in the sample, or are they hors de combat?

What of people with urinary tract infections who have urgent needs to empty their bladders when they are barely a third full? When I see someone with a pained expression approach a toilet and grimace through a brief session, I feel it would be impolitic to inquire, “STD?” or “Was the pleasure worth it?”

The other significant issue raised by this hypothesis relates to sea mammals. Toddlers in swimming pools would be easy enough to monitor as they foul the water, little yellow clouds spreading unashamedly from their swim trunks. Showing overt interest in this behavior is problematic, since protective mothers would object for numerous reasons, especially if they thought their kid’s pollution reflected on their upbringing.

What about sea lions, harbor seals, orcas, walruses? Is their speed affected by water temperature, wave action or their diet? In the Galapagos, I swam with seals, whom I’m sure had the same natural functions as I did, but I never caught them in the act.

This particular issue brings up the question of whether their output matches precisely the salinity of the surrounding ocean. With humpback whales, the question becomes still more complex because of their size and the effort involved in breaching.

In humans, enormous efforts often result in leakage; surely launching several tons into the air would compromise the strongest sphincter. Would this count or would it be considered incidental, with only full emptying counting in the survey?

In any event, it was thoughtful of The News Tribune to include this thought-provoking and stimulating article. It gave rise to much research on my part and much questioning of basic assumptions.

It all goes back to one of the truths of research: All great science must be subject to peer review.

Stuart Grover of Tacoma is a retired consultant with too much time on his hands. He sits on boards and sips on martinis.

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