The Social Lives Of Fishes
The feelings and welfare of fishes seem to be increasingly important to researchers, animal behaviorists, and the general public. Underpinning this shift is research into social cognition, or “the mechanisms by which animals acquire, process, store, and act on information from other individuals.” This includes things like communication and cooperation. While fish have long been seen as an “other” species. Many people even think that fish cannot or do not feel pain, but that is changing. Researchers are discovering important similarities in brain structure between fish and other vertebrates. Some species of fish show precise memory and “cognitive processes that go beyond conditioning.”
This literature review looked at recent developments in research on social cognition in fishes. It makes a strong case for the ability for fishes to engage in high-level thinking, problem-solving, and communication. By extension, it also makes a strong case for the richness of fishes’ lives. The review finds that “similarities between fish, mammal, and bird brains make it more likely that results on social cognition in fishes can be generalized to other vertebrates.” The authors note that fish research has made “major contributions” to our notion of cooperation between unrelated individuals. Fishes understand reciprocity. The researchers also note that “fishes can exhibit sophisticated social behavior; that is, they solve problems suggested to involve complex coordination, precise memory, and decision making.”
For animal advocates, the review is a bit of a mixed bag. While many of the findings break down the barriers between fishes and other animals, many of them are also derived from animal research. Still, they present a new state of science (and perhaps ethics), where fishes are no longer dismissed as unfeeling or unintelligent simply because they look different or exhibit emotions differently. This is potentially very important information for fish advocates to use in our messaging. And as we noted in a recent blog post, fishes make up the vast majority of animals consumed by humans.
Check out a Spanish translation of this article here.