Study: Fish Feel Pain, Recognize Individuals Like Mammals

Sunday, 22 Jun 2014 10:53 PM

By Greg Richter

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Fish can feel pain and some have the ability to remember, including being able to recognize individual members of their species, according to a study by Australian researcher Culum Brown in the journal Animal Cognition.

In the study "Fish Intelligence, Sentience and Ethics," Brown looked at multiple studies on fish and their sensory abilities as compared to other vertebrates. He found that many species of fish have sophisticated senses of vision and smell, just like a mammals, and some have memories.

One experiment involved training fish to flee danger by swimming through a specific hole in a net. When the fish were reintroduced to the situation a year later, they remembered the hole and swam through it.

Fish not only remember individuals, Brown wrote, but can pass on "cultural traditions" to succeeding generations, such as where to find food. They also build partnerships with others, including with other species, to hunt for food and build nests by moving stones.

Brown also believes fish feel pain not merely as a reflex, but are distressed by it. He says that when exposed to situations that cause pain, fish are distracted and will ignore dangers intended to cause them to flee.

Also, fish brains have mechanisms common to other creatures that feel pain, including humans.

"A review of the evidence for pain perception strongly suggests that fish experience pain in a manner similar to the rest of the vertebrates," Brown wrote.

He says the evidence suggest fish should be afforded the same animal rights protections as other species who feel pain.

"Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any nonhuman vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioral and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate," Brown wrote.

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