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Uncovering Under-Water “Mystery Circles”

In the perilous waters of Amami Oshima, Southern Japan, sea beds lay inscribed with ornate circles of a once mysterious origin. Within these circles intricate sweeps and grooves create shapely mounds of sand that come together and part to constellate geometric works of art that mirror the symbolic art of ancient Celts just as much as they emulate crop circles.

The “mystery circles” were first discovered 20 years ago, some 80 ft below the water’s surface. Images of the circles were captured by Yoji Ookata, a deep sea photographer, while diving in the southern tip of Japan’s coast. Having obtained his scuba license at age 21, Ookata left his day job at 39 to dedicate his time fully to photography, which has since encompassed a career spanning over 50 years. He brought in a television crew to further the investigation. What they found, the creator and curator of the rippled but seemingly calculated designs, was indeed, the sole work of a male puffer fish. The puffer fish conducted his work incessantly, sculpting hours on end, with the subtle motion of a single fin.

What instigates this artistic inclination? The one known reason a puffer fish scratches such grandiose designs, most 6 ft or so in diameter, is as an art to seduce an ideal mate. Beyond luring in females with meticulously crafted flourishes, male puffer fish further adorn the circle’s ridges with shell fragments. It seems to pay off. Scientists have found female puffer fish are more responsive to patterns with larger centers, which serve as fertile grounds for nesting. There also appears to be a correlation between successful attraction rates and the number of ridges contained in the patterns.

Upon attraction, the female will venture to the pattern’s center, where she will lay her eggs after consummating with the artist.

Beyond the intrigue inspired by the creative flare of the puffer fish, there are a few ways the ocean actually benefits from these patterns. They protect the eggs as their ridges and grooves regulate water flow, keeping ocean currents to a minimum. But the puffer fish is no underachiever. After the female departs the nest, and she certainly leaves no time to linger, the male watches over the off-spring for the next 6 days, until they hatch. From here, he too migrates elsewhere and begins the process all over again.

To witness the spectacle yourself, you can view the puffer fish at work via the video below.


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