Interspecific Cooperative Hunting

In doing some research on a separate topic I stumbled across an article in PLOS Biology from over ten years ago, back in December of 2006. The article described cooperative hunting between moray eels and groupers in the Red Sea. This is an incredible find which appeared not to get a lot of attention at the time. That is very unfortunate as it is both intriguing, and damaging to the evolutionary theory. This article will discuss this exciting find and discuss its implications for evolutionary dogma.

Cooperative hunting is nothing new. We see it throughout the natural world in creatures as diverse as lions, hyenas, birds, dolphins and even in crocodilians and spiders. However, finding two different species working together to hunt the same prey is extremely uncommon. Yet this is exactly what researchers working in the Red Sea noticed while observing the roving coral grouper (Plectropomus pessuliferus), a nearly four foot long fish found in the Red Sea and across the Indian Ocean.  The grouper is has a wide range and fairly high up the food chain as an adult, with few natural predators. It hunts smaller fish for food. However, in the reef habitat in which it lives, its prey is frequently able to escape into crevices in the rock, denying the grouper its meal.

To get around this problem, groupers sometimes choose to enlist help. In the red sea, their common partner is the Giant Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus).  The eel can get twice as long as the grouper, nearly reaching ten feet in some cases.   The eel shares the groupers taste for fish, supplementing its diet with crustaceans.  Because of its slender, snake-like body, the eel can go places that the grouper cannot. Somehow the grouper is aware of this.  When the grouper is on the hunt, it will often seek out an eel to help it hunt. Since eels tend to use the same resting places, they are not hard to find.

Communicating across the species barrier is difficult. The eels and the groupers do not share a common language. To ask the eel to join the hunt, the grouper will rapidly shake its head, often within an inch of the eels head. This is entirely initiated by the grouper. Eels never initiated.  In the PLOS study, 58% of the eels joined the hunt with the grouper when asked and swam with them looking for prey. These hunts lasted as long as just under three-quarters of an hour.  Sometimes, upon failing a hunt, groupers would seek out a nearby eel and attempt to get them to join the hunt.  However, the cooperation ended once the prey was captured. Whichever predator captured the prey first, engulfed it whole. There was no sharing. There was no dispute or anger from the unsuccessful partner. They simply accepted the loss and moved on. However, both the grouper and the moray eel were about equally successful when it came to hunting together.  Groupers were somewhat less successful without moray eels and eels were completely unsuccessful without groupers. In the eels case, they are normally nocturnal so their successful solo hunts likely went unnoticed.

This level of cooperation is unprecedented in fish, where cooperative hunting between members of the same species has yet to be observed, let alone between different species.  This cooperative ability between two very different species raises massive implications for the evolutionary dogma, which the PLOS article authors seem to be somewhat aware of because they attempt to address it.  “Hence, intraspecific coordinated hunting is linked to the well-known evolutionary problems of unequal payoffs and potential defection that are associated with altruistic behaviour. Tit-for-tat–like role alternation or the sharing of prey are potential solutions to this problem.”  Both of these ideas are terrible answers to the problem.  The grouper and the eel both have very defined roles in this relationship. Each covers a very specific area of the water column based on their body style and swimming ability.  They do not share prey so that is also not possible leaving the evolutionists with no alternatives.  They cannot explain why the two species work together.

Evolutionists have another problem. How do the two species communicate? The researchers admit “At present, we can only speculate about the nature of the information that is conveyed by grouper head-shake signals.” In other words, they don’t have any idea what the grouper is saying, or how the eel understands it.  Further, how do groupers know to call on the eels for help? And why do the eels help in the hunt? These are huge problems if, as evolutionists do, you require a completely naturalistic explanation.

However, creationists are not burdened with these demands for a purely natural explanation.  In a post-fall world, it is only natural for us to find animals working together if they were designed to do so in the first place. Prior to the fall, eels and groupers would have been either planktivores or herbivores so the need to hunt together would have been slim. The information for the behavior could easily have been built into the genes or, alternatively, the groupers may have used their signaling ability to attract eels to coral, which is likely not Biblically alive. The eels could have exposed more succulent coral buds in their feeding which the groupers could have eaten. Either way, creationists have no issue with this cooperative hunting behavior while evolution clearly does have problems with it.

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