That our world's wildlife is both remarkable and highly adaptable is no secret. But what's now only becoming clear with advances in our own technology is the scope of their physical and cognitive abilities. The amazing capabilities of our marine wildlife has recently been in the spotlight with the release of acclaimed naturalist Sir David Attenborough's latest nature documentary, the outstanding Blue Planet 2. |
Footage of the tuskfish on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, gaining access to the meat within a clam shell is just one on the many never-before-filmed moments that the Blue Planet 2 team has captured. The footage was captured by means of sophisticated underwater camera equipment, but it is the fish's clear ability to problem solve in order to access a food source that is such a landmark discovery.
The Ingenious Tusk Fish
To get why the fish's behaviour is so extraordinary it's necessary to understand its complexity. Firstly, the tuskfish exposes a clam buried in the sand by snapping shut its gill covers at high speed, creating a gush of water to uncover the clam. It then takes its prey between its jaws and smashes it against a piece of coral repeatedly and precisely, until the shell breaks and the soft flesh is revealed. The fish then devours the flesh and spits out any fragments of shell.
Tools and Tenacity
But the most remarkable aspect of this behaviour is that a fish uses its own particular piece of coral every time, which appears to have been chosen for its anvil-like properties. The team identified and filmed a tuskfish returning multiple times during the day to the same piece of coral to harvest clams, sometimes opening them in as little as five minutes, but other times taking up to an hour to complete the task.
That the fish uses the same sequence of behaviours to uncover the clam, return to the same site, and then smash open the shell reveals that it not only uses tools (putting it in the elite group of wildlife that does so), but that it also has the ability to forward plan. There are piles of clam shells all over the sea bed in the Great Barrier Reef, confirming that this is no isolated behaviour.
Persistence and Planning
While this was not the first time this kind of behaviour had been reported in the fish, the Blue Planet 2 sequence is the first professional footage – and equal levels of persistence and planning. The camera team spent more than 100 hours filming in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef to capture the intimate and revealing footage, which is now being used to document further research into marine wildlife.
Discover the Last Great Wilderness on a Wildlife Cruise
While Sir David Attenborough continues to introduce us to such astonishing and resourceful marine creatures as a fish that uses tools, it's a safe bet that there are far more mysteries of the ocean still undiscovered than even he could ever imagine. Exploring our oceans on a dedicated wildlife cruise is one of the best ways to gain a small, privileged view into some of the only untouched wilderness areas left on the planet.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in marine species. For nature lovers interested in a dedicated wildlife cruise, Marissa recommends thetours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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