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Index to Creationist Claims,  edited by Mark Isaak,    Copyright © 2004
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Claim CD011.4:

A freshly killed seal was carbon-14 dated at 1300 years old.


Hovind, Kent, n.d. Doesn't carbon dating or potassium argon dating prove the Earth is millions of years old?


  1. This claim derives from Wakefield (1971):
    Radiocarbon analysis of specimens obtained from mummified seals in southern Victoria Land has yielded ages ranging from 615 to 4,600 years. However, Antarctica sea water has significantly lower carbon-14 activity than that accepted as the world standard. Therefore, radiocarbon dating of marine organisms yields apparent ages that are older than true ages, but by an unknown and possibly variable amount. Therefore, the several radiocarbon ages determined for the mummified seal carcasses cannot be accepted as correct. For example, the apparent radiocarbon age of the Lake Bonney seal known to have been dead no more than a few weeks was determined to be 615 +/- 100 years. A seal freshly killed at McMurdo had an apparent age of 1,300 years.
    This is the well-known reservoir effect that occurs also with mollusks and other animals that live in the water. It happens when "old" carbon is introduced into the water. In the above case of the seal, old carbon dioxide is present within deep ocean bottom water that has been circulating through the ocean for thousands of years before upwelling along the Antarctic coast.

    The seals feed off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came from the atmosphere before the water sank. Thus, the carbon in the sea water is a couple of thousand years "old" from when it was in the atmosphere, and its radiocarbon content reflects this time. Plants incorporate this "old" carbon in them as they grow. Animals eat the plants; seals eat the animals, and the "old" carbon from the bottom waters is passed through the food chain. As a result, the radiocarbon content reflects a mixture of old radiocarbon, which is thousands of years old, and contemporaneous radiocarbon from the atmosphere. The result is an apparent age that differs from the true age of the seal.

    The reservoir effect is well known by scientists, who work hard to understand the limitations of their tools. It is explained, for example, in Faure (1986) and Higham (n.d.). Contrary to creationist propaganda, limitations of a tool do not invalidate the tool.


  1. Faure, G., 1986. Principles of Isotope Geology, 2nd ed. New York: Wiley.
  2. Higham, Thomas, n.d. Corrections to radiocarbon dates.
  3. Wakefield, Dort, Jr., 1971. Mummified seals of southern Victoria Land. Antarctic Journal 6(5): 210-211.

Further Reading:

Aitken, M. J., 1990. Science-based Dating in Archaeology. Longman, England.

Bowman, Sheridan, 1990. Radiocarbon Dating. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Taylor, R. E., 1987. Radiocarbon Dating. An archaeological perspective. Orlando, USA: Academic Press.
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created 2003-6-1, modified 2004-7-8