Histoire naturelle des dorades de la Chine, Edme Billardon-Sauvigny (1736 – 1812), gravées par F.N. Martinet accompagnée d’observations et d’anecdotes relatives aux usages, aux moeurs et au gouvernement de cet empire par m. de Sauvigny
“Because fishes inhabit vast, obscure habitats, science has only begun to explore below the surface of their private lives. They are not instinct-driven or machinelike. Their minds respond flexibly to different situations. They are not just things; they are sentient beings.”
In his new book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins, Jonathan Balcombe presents evidence that fish have a conscious awareness that allows them to experience pain, recognize individual humans and have memory.
“Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish,” Balcombe says.
“They are the product of over 400 million years of evolution so the perceptions and sensory abilities of fish” . . . whether strange to us or very familiar, are wonderfully developed.
“One is a sense of water pressure or movement in the water that’s very acute. Some fishes, including sharks, can detect electrical signals from other organisms.
Some can create electric organ discharges, and they use those as communication signals. They will change their own frequency if they’re swimming by another fish with a similar frequency, so they don’t jam and confuse each other. They also show deference by shutting off their EODs when they’re passing the fish who holds that territory.
At low tide, frillfin gobies hide in rocky tide pools. If danger lurks — a hungry octopus, say — the goby will jump to a neighboring tide pool, with remarkable accuracy. How do they avoid ending up stranded on the rocks?
A series of captive experiments dating from the 1940s found something remarkable. They memorize the tide pool layout while swimming over it at high tide. They can do it in one try, and remember it 40 days later. So much for a fish’s mythic three-second memory.
On reefs, collaborative hunting has developed an astonishing degree of sophistication. A grouper has been observed inviting a moray eel to join in a foray, communicating by a head-shaking gesture or a full body shimmy. The two fishes probably know each other, for individual recognition is the norm in fish societies.
If the grouper chases a fish into a reef crevice, it uses its body to point to the hidden prey until the slender eel goes after it; if the hapless quarry escapes to open water, the grouper is waiting.
In a study of striated surgeon-fishes collected from the Great Barrier Reef, researchers stressed their subjects by placing them, one at a time, for 30 minutes in a bucket with just enough water to cover them.
When given the chance, the frazzled surgeon-fishes repeatedly sidled up to a realistic mechanical model of a cleaner-fish that was rigged to deliver gentle strokes. Their stress levels — measured as cortisol taken by blood sample — plummeted.
One study showed individual recognition of human faces by fishes–so they probably do recognize individual divers–and they come up to be stroked.
If temporary confinement to a small bucket traumatizes a fish, think what it feels like to be caught. Every year, an estimated half trillion fishes are hauled up from their habitat.
They die by suffocation and crushing in order to provide food for us, our pets and livestock, and even for the fishes we farm. That, or we toss them back, usually dead or dying, as unwanted by-catch.
Some of the methods to catch fish for acquariums are pretty awful: Cyanide poisoning, which often kills many of the fishes being targeted– or ones not being targeted– and explosive devices are sometimes used.
And then you have the vicissitudes of transport, where they’re shipped over continents and the mortality rates are high.
So we are campaigning actively to try to discourage people from buying these fishes, because when you purchase a product, you tell the manufacturer to do it again, and we don’t really want that happening
The simplest way to help is to reduce our consumption of fish and to source what we do eat from suppliers that adhere to animal welfare standards.
As innovative research reveals new facets of the private lives of fishes, I’m hopeful that perceptions will change and we’ll show them more mercy.”
N.Y. Times 5/15/2016
Fresh Air 6/20/2016