The Frillfin Goby–A Fish with a Built-in GPS

Frillfin goby
One of the most studied fish in the ocean is a three-inch long shore fish called the frillfin goby (Bathygobius soporator). This little fish has even gotten attention from the New York Times which ran an article about studies by Dr. Jonathan Balcombe on this fish and how it survives (May 15, 2016).

This fish lives in the intertidal zones in the Atlantic Ocean. When the tide goes out, the fish lives in small tidal pools which are isolated and free of the large predatory fish which pose a threat when the tide is in. The problem is that these small pools can be hunting grounds for shorebirds and crabs so sometimes the fish needs to change pools. The goby does this by jumping out of its pool and landing in a nearby pool that offers better protection. The obvious problem with making this jump is knowing where the next pool is to land in it and not on bare rock. In 1971 a study was done at the American Museum of Natural History to see how the frillfin goby learns where to jump and how far to jump to land in the pool. Their conclusion was that the goby swims over the area at high tide and makes a mental map of the topography of the sea floor. It can use this mental map 40 days later to escape from a predator. Essentially they have a mental GPS that allows them to make what would otherwise be a very dangerous escape.

This is not a chance driven device. Observers did not see any case where the goby missed its pool. The accuracy of the jumping is far beyond chance. This instinctive drive and the biological features that sustain it are an evidence of an intelligence providing for life in every nook and cranny of the world around us. For more information see the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 188 (1) : 378-392.
–John N. Clayton © 2017