A new book, Fish Feel Pain?, is hoping to dispel the notion that fish are somehow incapable of experiencing pain or unable to learn. The book, which is being met with some controversy, says that fish have gotten a bad rap as unfeeling simpletons, destined to be thought of as food--even among some who call themselves vegetarians. In fact, fish may be much more complex and sensitive than ever imagined. Sound fishy? You may be surprised.The book's author, Victoria Braithwaite, is a marine biologist and admitted fish-eater herself. She was driven to expose what she considers a double-standard whereby mammals and birds are regarded as capable of experiencing suffering and pain, while fish, on the other hand, are not.
According to a report in Ambiente Brasil, Braithwaite sites a fish's unemotive "face" and unfamiliar aquatic environment as being factors that keep people from extending the same emphatic feelings towards fish that they may show towards other, less sentient seeming creatures.
In order to test her theory that fish feel pain, Braithwaite submitted fish to a number of torture-tests. In one experiment, some fish were injected with bee venom while others received a control substance. The 'bee-stung' fish were observed reacting differently--some even showing signs of anger until the poison had passed.
Other experiments aimed at breaking the stereotype that fish are incapable of learning yielded some surprising results as well. Spanish scientists, working with goldfish, found that fish were able to memorize routes of escape. Another test found that some species of aggressive freshwater fish assesses their fighting prowess by noting the skill of potential rivals engaged in other skirmishes.
Sure, it may not come as too big of a surprise to learn that fish do have feelings after all, but now the evidence is definitive. So next time you're out fishing, perhaps you should apologize before you let it go.