Fish have long been the subject of debate about whether or not they feel emotions and pain. How do we know what goes on in the minds of these sea creatures? Do they have feelings like we do?
These questions have been around for a long time and has triggered a lot of research. Several studies have been conducted on this aspect, and some of the findings may surprise you.
What Is A Feeling?
Feelings are defined as internal states of conscious sensations, perceptions and emotions.
Feelings are the subjective experience we have in our bodies when we perceive and respond to external stimuli. These stimuli may be physical or emotional; they can be pleasant or unpleasant (or even both).
In other words, a feeling is an experience that originates from within you rather than something happening around you.
The word “feeling” according to the Collin’s Dictionary refers to all of our emotional responses—from joy and happiness to sadness, fear and anger.
What is Sentience?
Sentience is defined by Collin’s Dictionary as the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience emotions subjectively. It’s a broad term that encompasses all the senses we have.
Whether you’re talking about yourself or another animal, sentience refers to the ability to have feelings or emotional experiences.
Sentience is a characteristic that allows an organism to be conscious, capable of feeling and perceiving. Sentience is also the ability to have subjective experiences, including pain and pleasure.
Sentience is one of the most fundamental aspects of our existence. The question here is if fish have sentience.
Fish Have Awareness
Studies have found that fish have awareness of their surroundings. Jonathan Balcombe, a renowned biologist – authored a book with the title “What A Fish Knows – The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins”.
In the said book he explains that fish have awareness of surroundings. The author explains that fish can use their senses to identify and react to predators and prey.
Balcombe explains that fish have brains, nervous systems and well-developed senses.
Fish Recognize Humans
Studies have found that fish recognize humans very well. In 2007, Gene S. Helfman, a Professor of Ecology in the University of Georgia in his book – “Fish Conservation, A Guide to Understanding and Restoring Global Aquatic Biodiversity and Fishery Resources” observed that fish can easily recognize humans.
Researchers have found that fish can tell the difference between a human face and an object like a toy boat.
The researchers found that fish are capable of recognizing their owners, reacting differently to different people who were around them. This is quite interesting because it shows how much they can interact with us and how they respond to us.
If you have had goldfish or bettas, you might relate to this since you might have seen them come up to you as soon as they see you.
Fish Have A Good Memory
The Society For Experimental Biology studied African cichlids and published a finding “Smarter Than You Think”. After training the cichlids for three days, they were given a gap of twelve days.
Post these twelve days, when the fish was reintroduced to the same environment, the fish were clearly able to remember the food zones and go there.
The fish became accustomed to their new environment, which had three food zones. The middle zone was always empty, while the other two had food in them.
The scientists then observed how long it took for the fish to return to the same area where they had previously found food.
The results were amazing: almost every single fish returned to its previous location within five minutes!
The Society for Experimental Biology studied African cichlids. After training them for three days, they were given a gap of twelve days. After twelve days, the fish were clearly able to remember the food zones.
This research suggests that fish may be capable of more complex learning than previously thought. It also opens up new avenues for research into animal cognition and behavior.
Some Fish Have Electroreception
Many fish have electroreception. Electroreception is the ability to detect electrical stimuli.
This means that, certain fish like sharks can sense their prey even if the prey is hiding in mud or sand.
This is because saltwater is a very good conductor of electricity, so the fish can use this ability to find its prey.
This ability can be found in a number of different fish, including some species of sharks and rays, teleost and even some amphibians.
Electroreception has been shown to be highly sensitive enough to detect minute changes in electrical fields from a distance.
For example, electric eels have been shown to use their electroreceptive abilities to find food sources by detecting the small electric fields generated by muscle contractions at good distances.
This allows them to sneak up on their food sources without being detected themselves!
Fish Are Intelligent
Fish are intelligent. In 2008 Wiley Publishers published a book ‘Fish Cognition & Behaviour’. Fish are intelligent in their own way.
This book contains nine chapters and an appendix. The first chapter is about the behavior of fish in different situations, such as feeding behavior and communication; the second chapter is about learning and memory in fish; the third chapter is about social behavior in fish; the fourth chapter is about cognitive processes of fish; the fifth chapter is about brain anatomy and physiology of fish; the sixth chapter is about neurophysiology of sensory systems of fish; the seventh chapter is about neurophysiology of motor systems of fish; the eighth chapter is about neuroendocrinology of hormones in fish; and finally, an appendix describes how to make an aquarium for raising small-sized fish.
Fish are intelligent. In 2008 Wiley Publishers published a book ‘Fish Cognition & Behaviour’. This book confirms that fish are intelligent in their own way. They have a brain, a central nervous system and they can solve problems, avoid predators and hide effectively.
Fish are also very sensitive to their environment, so they react to changes in temperature, light and water quality.
The book explains how different species of fish behave. For example, the way that herrings shoal together when they are feeding is similar to the way birds flock together when they fly over land.
Fish also use their senses to find food and mates.
It’s amazing how much these creatures know about their world!
In fact, scientists have found that fish are capable of learning through trial and error and then remembering what works best for them in different situations.
Fish have been shown to be able to solve problems too – like how to get food out of an aquarium net!
Fish Have Machiavellian Intelligence
Fish also have Machiavellian Intelligence which means the ability to live in groups and cooperate with the group. In Culum Brown’s publication called Fish Intelligence, Sentience and Ethics, he confirmed that fish can cooperate with each other and reconciliate too.
The fact that fish have this intelligence shows us that they are not just mindless creatures who act on instinct alone. They also have complex emotions and feelings like humans do.
Brown also mentions how fish are capable of recognizing one another, learning from their experiences, solving problems and even protecting themselves when they’re threatened by predators or humans who catch them for food!
This shows us that fish actually feel pain when we kill them or harm them in any way!
Fish Can Get Stressed Too
Fish are known to get stressed. Bruce A Barton in his paper explains stress in fish, the multiple causes and the consequences of stress even being fatal.
Stress is caused by many different factors and can be fatal. Stress usually occurs when a fish is exposed to an environment that is different from what it is used to. For example, if you put a fish from one tank into another tank with different water conditions, your fish will be stressed. This can also happen when the temperature of the water changes or if you introduce new fish into your aquarium.
Stress can lead to sickness and even death if not properly treated. There are several symptoms that indicate that your fish may be suffering from stress such as rapid breathing or gasping for air, lethargy (inactivity), loss of appetite, redness around the gills, and white spots on scales or fins.
Fish Have Social Cognition
Fish can recognize other fish and predators. Fish are social animals, meaning they work together to find food, shelter, and mates in their environment.
They have personalities that influence their behavior and preferences.
Fish also have the ability to recognize each other individually, which is why you might see two male fish fighting over territory or a female rejecting one male’s advances while she accepts another’s.
Fish Have Preferences And React To Loss Of Partner
Fish can have partner preferences and even react to the loss of a partner. Fish are not just mindless creatures. They have their own reactions, if they lose their partner.
Let us understand this with simple examples. When we look at guppies. The females have been known to select the brightest male.
If the females are introduced to multiple males, you can watch the female find her mate. Research found signification difference in the manner in which a female reacted to the preferred mate and other males.
Fish have also been known to experience loss of their partner. In 2019, in an article titled “Pair Bonding Influences Affective State In A Monogamous Fish Species”, it was found that fish that engage in monogamous relationships do experience the loss of their partner.
I think that the main takeaway from this article should be that fish are smart, aware animals with their own set of preferences and motivations. They have strong social connections and can recognize human faces. They even have long-term memories! It’s time we quit underestimating fish and start appreciating these sweet little creatures.