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This article is from
Creation 40(1):21, January 2018

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Seabed circles ‘Whodunnit?’ solved


Yoji Okata / Minden Picturesseafloor-sand

In 1995, divers off the coast of Japan discovered a circular structure about two metres (6 ft) in diameter carved in the seafloor sand. Consisting of multiple ridges symmetrically radiating out from a small patterned circle in the centre, more of these geometric seabed formations were soon discovered nearby. These ‘underwater crop circles’—as some dubbed them—mysteriously came and went, and “appeared to be the work of an underwater artist, carefully working with tools. … But who or what created them?”1

For more than a decade, this ‘Whodunnit?’ remained a mystery. But researchers now know that the creator of these seabed circles is a diminutive pufferfish, just 12 cm (5 inches) long.2,3 It takes 7–9 days of laborious construction work for a male pufferfish to build one, apparently with a goal of attracting a mate. If he succeeds, she lays her eggs in the centre circle, where the sand is finest. Indeed, it seems the fine-grained sand is a key ‘selling point’. When a female approaches the male’s seabed handiwork, he deliberately stirs up the fine sand of the central circle for her to see.

These pufferfish constructions have three characteristics never before seen in fish nests shaped in sand: the radially aligned peaks and valleys; the peaks decorated with shell fragments; and the fine sand particles gathered in the central circle. What’s more, the total circular structure itself helps to gather the fine sediments into the centre. Researchers conducting a fluid dynamics test observed that the upstream portion of the peaks and valleys funnel water and fine sediments toward the centre. Then, the downstream peaks and valleys funnel the water outward. The speed of water was slowed by nearly 25 percent in the central circle, allowing the fine-grained particles borne along by the current to settle there.

Yoji Okata / Minden Picturespufferfish
A pufferfish collecting shells for its ‘seabed circle’.

So these seabed circles with their fine-grained centres are no accident—it was quite right to see them as presenting a ‘Whodunnit?’ question needing to be solved. But if something as relatively ‘simple’ as strategically heaped sand ridges/circles point to their needing a creator, how much more so the staggeringly intricate and complex puffer fish, able to live, breathe and reproduce, must itself be the artistry of a creator? The Bible warns us not to overlook the fact that living things present us with a ‘Whodunnit?’ question (Romans 1:20)—which it also solves for us (e.g. Genesis 1, Revelation 4:11).

References and notes

  1. . Japan crop circle mystery solved 2012 HD, youtube.com/watch?v=WIbdnx7Q-JU&spfreload=10, acc. 24 April 2017. Return to text.
  2. . Main, D., Pufferfish love explains mysterious underwater circles, livescience.com, 2 October 2013. Return to text.
  3. . Kawase, H., Okata, Y., and Ito, K., Role of huge geometric circular structures in the reproduction of a marine pufferfish, Scientific Reports 3:2106, 1 July 2013, doi:10.1038/srep02106. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Discovery of Design
by Donald DeYoung & Derrik Hobbs
US $15.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Michael S.
Here you can see the putterfisch "working": [link deleted per feedback rules]
Yes, it is not nature, it is creation :-)
Don Batten
Michael kindly supplied a link to a video of the pufferfish creating his masterpiece: BBC video of pufferfish working (3 minutes).
Sophia L.
wow i never thought something so small and irrelevent could create something soo beautiful
Dennis B.
There are quite a few other "random, unsolvable mysteries" in nature, like this one. Anyone who looks at a peacock, a platypus, a chameleon, a giraffe, etc. etc. must admit to design, hence a Designer. Evolutionists force themselves to believe that creatures with such impossibly complex features, habits, or untaught instinctual proclivities could simply arise from nothing. It is beyond counterintuitive. It is impossible.
David P.
Why do you think God "did it"? Nature and evolution can work these matters out perfectly adequately given the millions of years it has taken life to arrive. If every time you come across something complex that can't be fitted into your hilarious 10000 year existence then I can appreciate you're up against it. Don't you think the light should have dawned by now that you're flogging a dead horse with this farcical delusion?
Don Batten
Oh yes, the magic wand of evolution can do anything for those who believe, for those who don't think about it very deeply, or those who have a prior commitment to materialism (atheism). And time is the hero; given enough time the unbelievable becomes believable! No, the impossible does not become possible by adding time. Indeed, time is the enemy of evolution of complex organisms because of the problem of genetic entropy. And there is abundant evidence that the mantra of billions of years is a grand myth, driven by confirmation bias.
Anna S.
It brought to my mind The Groom preparing a dwelling place for His bride.. Wonderful beyond human imagination.
RMulder M.
Wow, okay so it doesn't just look pretty, but the different elements have practical uses as well. That's really neat :)
I think there are also birds who, in a similar fasion, prepare a special place to attract the ladies (that kind of effort will surely go away once the marriage is sealed and some years have passed ;) ). Then there are often also jealous competitors who might ruin someone else's work or steal it. Would that be considered a 'sinful' thing? A result from the Fall?

One thing that fascinates me is how animals like these fish and birds appear to be putting in a lot of thought into their efforts. Yet these behaviors are usually attributed to instinct - a kind of pre-pogrammed uhm program. I wonder if they themselves even realize what amazing feats they are pulling off.

As a side note: I read somewhere that animals sometimes follow instincts wrongly. Like when a Robin will attack anything that is red, thinking it is an intruding competitor. Or a newborn animal will attach itself to the first being it encounters, even if it is not their mother. Or when a bird approaches nest building principles correctly, but with the wrong sizes of branch that will keep falling down from the tree. In that light, it is as if instinct is thoughtless and sometimes needs correction, which would involve learning. Its kind of paradoxical.
If only we knew what is going on inside the minds of these wonderful creatures.
Gina T.
I struggle to draw a circle in the sand that has perfect symmetry, let alone a circle that is fifteen times bigger than me, and that has perfect radiating furrows and peaks. Amazing little critters. Praise God!
Stephen A.
The creativity, complexity, and beauty displayed by this "fish nest" stands in contrast to what one might expect from random chance selection because it would logically seem that a simpler and least time consuming mating system would produce more offspring. I suppose the evolutionist might theorize that the persistence, intelligence, and creativity needed to build such a "nest" would give those individuals a survival advantage over those building less complex structures so that their offspring carry forward other survival advantages.
Don Batten
Sexual selection, where the female prefers a male that has some outlandish physical feature or a special courtship ritual, was the 'go to' explanation for all manner of such features. The peacock's tail was the classic example proposed by Darwin himself. However, experiments failed to show that females preferred ostentatious males: Peacock tail tale fail.
Peter H.
re: Leslie H. comment of April 23 - I couldn't have worded it better! ☺ I find it difficult (even as a formerly evolution believer myself for years) to understand how anyone (no matter how thorougly taught in all aspects of evolution), could read this article, look at the picture, and then say, "Nah, just a random result of unguided events".
Mark Z.
God has given such unique abilities to his creation. I enjoy seeing his intelligence revealed through creation. Thank you for revealing this. But above these creatures I love seeing the spirit he has given my dog. Such beauty he has given. Thank you Jesus.
Leslie H.
Thank you for this interesting article. It is wonderful that God has given these little fish such amazing skill and knowledge to make these beautiful nests in the sand.
“Many, O Lord my God, are your wonderful works which you have done.” Psalm 40:5

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