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Brian Key, Why fish do not feel pain


The target article by Key (2016) examines whether fish have brain structures capable of mediating pain perception and consciousness, functions known to depend on the neocortex in humans. He concludes, as others have concluded (Rose 2002, 2007; Rose et al. 2014), that such functions are impossible for fish brains. This conclusion has been met with hypothetical assertions by others to the effect that functions of pain and consciousness may well be possible through unknown alternate neural processes. Key's argument would be bolstered by consideration of other neurological as well as behavioral evidence, which shows that sharks and ray are fishes that have no nociceptive afferents and that bony fishes, although they have A delta nociceptors, are extremely deficient in C fibers, the most abundant nociceptor in mammals. In addition, behavioral studies of surgery, angling and other putatively noxious procedures show that fish don't behave as if they suffer from pain.

Author Biography

James D. Rose trout@uwyo.edu Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology, University of Wyoming, had a 37-year career of research in neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and neuroendocrinology relating to behavior in many species of mammals, including humans, as well as fishes, amphibians and reptiles.