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Floating fish and fossil fables

Louisiana fish kill destroys fossil formation ideas


Photo by Billy Nungesser/WWL7588-floating-fish
Figure 1. Massive floating fish grave in Louisiana shows fish bodies don’t sit underwater waiting to be fossilized.

In mid-September 2010, a massive fish kill was reported in Louisiana amid fears it was caused by the catastrophic BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in April.1 After a thorough investigation, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries concluded the fish kill was caused by low oxygen levels from low tides and high water temperatures.1 However, note what happened to the fish. They all ended up floating on top of the water in a vast mat of sea creatures (figure 1). This colossal kill can help clear up some basic misconceptions about the formation of fossils, something that has far reaching implications.

Most people think fossils take millions of years to form. They get this idea from what is taught in textbooks and museums, which use drawings depicting how fossils form, such as figure 2. The story starts by showing a dead animal sinking to the bottom of the ocean, where it lies on the sediment waiting to be fossilized. Slowly, more sediment accumulates and gradually buries the dead creature over millions of years until it’s completely covered. The sediment then hardens and fossilizes the dead creature inside it. The land is uplifted, the sediment eroded until the fossil is exposed after more millions of years, ready for scientists to dig up.

Figure 2. This diagram of the formation of a dinosaur fossil from the National Dinosaur Museum, in Canberra, Australia, illustrates the popular millions-of-years story of how fossils form.

This massive fish kill in Louisiana illustrates why this popular story is wrong. The thousands of sea creatures are floating—they’re not lying on the riverbed waiting to be covered in sediment and fossilized. The scavengers and bacteria don’t leave these sorts of kills alone. Under such conditions they break down the corpses very quickly, leaving practically nothing to sink and fossilize.

The incredible fish kill in Louisiana demonstrates that the traditional story we are told about fossil formation is wrong. Millions of years of time are not needed.

For fossils to form, this decay process needs to be prevented by rapidly burying the dead creatures in sediment. That restricts access to oxygen and scavengers, which prevents rapid breakdown. The final process in forming the fossil usually involves a mineral cement that turns the sediment into stone, but that process does not take millions of years either. (See Dinosaur bones—just how old are they really?)

The incredible fish kill in Louisiana demonstrates that the traditional story we are told about fossil formation is wrong. Millions of years of time are not needed. Dead fish don’t sink to be slowly buried by sediment. The fossil record testifies that something abnormal happened in the past that buried the animals quickly. Such fossil formation is completely consistent with global catastrophe of the biblical Flood.

Published: 18 January 2011


  1. Dykes, B.M., Massive fish kill reported in Louisiana, Yahoo News, 14 September 2010. Return to text.

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