Fish have feelings too: Expert claims creatures experience pain in the same way humans do - and should be treated better.
- A scientist claims that fish have the same intelligence as other vertebrates
- Fish have good memories, build complicated structures and show behaviour seen in primates - as well as feeling pain like us, he said
- Expert claims fish welfare and fishing techniques should be reconsidered
- It is the latest claims in a debate surrounding how fish respond to stimulus
Fishing may not seem like such a relaxing sport anymore, as scientists claim to have found that fish feel pain, just like humans. One researcher believes fish have the same intelligence as other animals and consequently, people should care more for their welfare. Flying in the face of what is considered popular opinion, he added fish have good memories and exhibit behaviour seen in primates, such as building complicated structures like specially-shaped sandcastles, as well as using tools.
Associate Professor Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia, said fish have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and can learn from one another. They develop cultural traditions and can even recognise themselves and others. They also show signs of Machiavellian intelligence, such as cooperation and reconciliation, according to the study, which focuses on bony fish and is published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.
Professor Brown said the primary senses of the fish are ‘just as good’ and in some cases better than that of humans. The level of mental complexity that fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, while there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans.
While the brains of fish differ from other vertebrates, fish have many comparable structures that perform similar functions. Professor Brown believes that if some comparable animals are sentient, fish must be considered to be so, too, and therefore their welfare needs should be reconsidered.
‘Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate,’ he said.
‘We should therefore include fish in our ‘moral circle’ and afford them the protection they deserve.’
While the implications of the research could have a big impact on the fishing industry, fish are also used in a similar way to mice in scientific research, so lab conditions would have to be reviewed too. Professor Brown thinks there is little public concern about the creatures’ wellbeing as many people only think of the animals as pets or food, and do not give them credit for being conscious and intelligent.
A recent study has found that crayfish feel stress in the same way that humans do and can be similarly calmed down using drugs. This is the first time that clear signs of anxiety - normally associated with more complex forms of life - has been observed in a spineless species.