How Many Animals Were On the Ark? [Genesis Explained]


Noah’s ark still fascinates Bible readers several millennia after its voyage because of its important purpose, enormous size, and the human and animal passengers it carried. Animals are a special part of God’s creation that he called “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It’s not surprising that he told Noah to build a vessel large enough to save them from drowning in the flood. One question readers of Genesis ask is how many animals were onboard Noah’s ark.

Among Genesis scholars that make an educated guess as to the total number of animals on Noah’s ark, one estimates there were 18,000 species, amounting to 75,000 animals. Another thinks there were 2,000 mammal species and 6,500 bird species. Yet another calculates there were 1,398 kinds or 6,744 animals.

What’s the difference between “kind” in Genesis, “species” in modern science, and individual animals? What is the biblical and scientific basis for the above numeric estimates? Was the ark big enough to carry all the animals? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Noah's ark
What is an animal “kind” in Genesis? See below

The number of kinds, species, and animals on Noah’s ark

The Bible doesn’t clearly state how many animals were on the ark. For this reason, scholars and scientists who estimate a total number (many don’t proffer a guess) are making an informed approximation. However, the estimators don’t always use the same classification descriptions, as some prefer “kind,” others “species,” and others individual animals. So what’s the difference between them?

What is a “kind” in the Bible?

Major English Bible translations render the Hebrew word min as “kind” (e.g. Gen. 1:24; 6:20). The definition of the English word “kind,” in relation to animals, refers to “a group with similar characteristics, or a particular type” (Cambridge Dictionary). In the creation account (Gen. 1:1-31), God created plants and animals “according to their kind.” The same word describes animals in the flood story (e.g. Gen. 6:20).

Hebrew Root WordEnglish Translation
chay (חַי)“living thing”; alive, living (Gen. 6:19)
basar (בָּשָׂר)“flesh”; bodies, lives (Gen. 6:19)
min (מִין)“Kind”; sort (Gen. 6:20)
oph (עוֹף)“birds”; flying creatures (Gen. 6:20)
behemah (בְּהֵמָה)“animals”; a beast, animal, cattle (Gen. 6:20)
remes (רֶמֶשׂ)“creeping thing”; creeping things, moving things (Gen. 6:20)

Are “kind” and “species” the same? It’s important to understand that the biblical term “kind” isn’t equivalent to “species” as modern science commonly uses it, which it defines as “a set of animals or plants in which the members have similar characteristics to each other and can breed with each other” (Cambridge Dictionary).

One Genesis scholar writes, “Any attempt to correlate ‘kind’ with a modern term, such as ‘species,’ is unwarranted.” [1] Another explains how the term may relate to classification types today: “It is probably too restrictive to insist that the Hebrew word min, ‘kind(s),’ be limited to ‘species.’ [The Hebrew word] min is broad enough to allow for ‘species’ as well as ‘genus, family, order.'” [2]

What does “kind” imply in Genesis? The exact definition of “kind” in relation to modern scientific thought isn’t critical to interpreting its meaning in Genesis. The meaning of the term doesn’t relate to a system of biological classification (i.e. kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species). Instead, the term conveys that God created animals with boundaries according to their nature.

Another Genesis scholar explains the importance of “kind” this way: “The implication, though not stated, is clear: what God has distinguished and created distinct man ought not to confuse (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:9-11). Order, not chaos, is the hallmark of God’s activity.” [3] An example of such a boundary is the dog kind doesn’t mate with the bird kind, and the horse kind doesn’t mate with the bear kind.

Were Golden Retrievers on Noah’s ark?

The ark only needed a male and female of each “kind” to save all the present and future animals in that biological family. For example, the ark only had to have one dog “kind” to save all of them. Using modern breeds as an example, the ark didn’t have to carry Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, and all of the other hundreds of dog breeds in existence today.

Furthermore, the same “kind” not only produced all domestic dogs, but all creatures in that particular family, like wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes, and other animals that are now extinct. Though “kind” and “species” aren’t the same, kind is the broader term so that male-female pair may have produced other animals outside of the canidae species that produces biological dogs.

Genesis flood
Why did one scholar estimate that there were 75,000 animals on the ark? See below

Estimating the number of animals on the ark

In the flood story, God saved the people and animals that he called “very good” in the creation account (Gen. 1:31). Though the narrative records God’s instructions to Noah about the animals, it doesn’t provide total numbers.

For example, Genesis 6:20 records a list of the animal passengers. “Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive” (ESV). Genesis scholars teach that the general term “animals” listed second in the description refers to land animals. [4]

God’s instructions to Noah get more detailed as the flood story unfolds. He is to bring seven male-female pairs of clean animals and one male-female pair of unclean animals (Gen. 7:2). The distinction between clean and unclear is explained later in the Bible (Lev. 11:1-47; Deut. 14:3-21), though Noah clearly knew its meaning.

Multiple pairs of clean animals enabled Noah to make sacrifices to God (e.g. Gen. 8:20) after the flood was over without endangering the existence of a kind.

Noah also brought seven male-female pairs of birds “to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (Gen. 7:3).

These more detailed instructions may not have mentioned the creatures that creep along the ground again (cf. Gen. 6:20) because there was no elaboration to give about them. However, they are mentioned later in the flood story (7:8, 14, 21, 23).

And of course, the animals that lived in the water weren’t in danger of going extinct.

Genesis is clear that Noah obeyed God and the animals came to him, which informs readers that all the animals mentioned in the passages above were onboard the vessel. “Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah” (Gen. 7:8-9, emphasis added).

18,000 species or 75,000 individual animals

Henry Morris, the author of The Genesis Record, estimates that there were 18,000 species on the ark, amounting to 75,000 animals. He writes, “Authorities on biological taxonomy estimate that there are less than eighteen thousand species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians living in the world today. This number might be doubled to allow for known extinct land animals.”

Morris then estimates the total number of animals on the ark: “Allowing then for two of each species, there might have to be a total of about seventy-two thousand animals on the Ark — say seventy-five thousand; to allow for the five extra animals in each ‘clean’ species.” [5]

Morris estimates that the animals would have taken up 60% of the capacity on the ark or less, depending on how broad the term “kind” is. He also notes that there aren’t many large land animals (e.g. an elephant).

Additionally, it would make sense to have younger, and therefore smaller, animals onboard. Morris also writes that not only did sea life exist outside the ark, but insect species probably did, too. [6]

1,398 kinds or 6,744 individual animals

The Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis, calculates an estimate of how many animals were onboard the ark. Their estimate comes from adding up the total number of kinds and animals for living and extinct amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Scientists at Answers in Genesis estimate that there were 1,398 “kinds” on the ark, amounting to 6,744 animals. [7]

2,000 mammal species and 6,500 bird species

The classic Keil-Delitzsch Bible commentary, written by two conservative Lutheran scholars, includes a footnote that refers to a scholar named “Pfaff” who is unknown to this writer. As the commentary explains, Pfaff estimates that there were 2,000 mammal species and 6,500 bird species on the ark.

The commentary’s point in referencing the estimate is to challenge it. The writers argue that any guess as to the total number of animals on the ark is “pure conjecture.” Nevertheless, Pfaff is one of the few writers that even venture to estimate how many animals were on the ark. [8]

ark animals
How big was the ark? See below

Was the ark big enough to carry all the animals?

Genesis lists the size of the ark at 300 x 50 x 30 cubits (Gen. 6:15), which equals 450 x 75 x 45 feet (137.6 x 22.86 x 13.71 meters). Scholars estimate that the inside of the ark had a capacity of 1.4 million cubic feet or 39,644 cubic meters. They also estimate that the ark’s displacement was 43,000 tons or 39 million kilograms. The total deck area of the ark was 95,700 square feet or 8,891 square meters. [9]

Though Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton doesn’t offer an estimate of the total number of animals on the ark, he writes, “The size of Noah’s ark possibly suggests that it was large enough and strong enough to weather the Flood, and that it contained enough space (an approximate total area of 95,700 sq ft) to accommodate all the animals.” [10]

References:
[1] Genesis 1-11:26 by Kenneth Mathews. p. 153.
[2] The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 by Victor Hamilton. p. 126.
[3] Genesis 1-15 by Gordon Wenham. p. 21.
[4] Mathews. p. 369.
[5] The Genesis Record by Henry Morris. p. 185.
[6] Ibid.
[7] How Many Animals Were on the Ark? p. 47.
[8] Source
[9] Hamilton. p. 282.
[10] Ibid.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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