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Our relationship to fishes in the modern era is deeply problematic. We kill and consume more of them than any other group of vertebrates. At the same time, advances in our knowledge of fishes and their capabilities are gaining speed. Fish species diversity exceeds that of all other vertebrates combined, with a wide range of sensory adaptations, some of them (e.g., geomagnetism, water pressure and movement detection, and communication via electricity) alien to our own sensory experience. The evidence for pain in fishes (despite persistent detractors) is strongly supported by anatomical, physiological and behavioral studies. It is likely that fishes also seek pleasure, as evidenced by their willingness to approach divers to receive caresses that may mimic those given out by cleaner-fishes who seek to curry favor with valued clients. Observations of play behavior in fishes present another possible source of pleasure, or at least relief from boredom. Some fishes are also subject to emotional stress and will take action to relieve it. Fishes routinely recognize other individuals. Their social lives involve cooperation, virtue, democracy, deception, and cumulative monitoring. Courtship and sexual behavior are highly variable across species, and parental care is known for about a quarter of all fish species. Based on the cumulative research now available, we may conclude that fishes are deserving of levels of protections comparable to those deemed suitable for any other vertebrate. Currently, however, our treatment of fishes falls far short of such a standard.

Author Biography

Jonathan Balcombe, Director of Animal Sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, writes and speaks about animal thinking, feeling, and protection. His forthcoming book What a fish knows explores the inner lives of the world’s most exploited vertebrates. Other books include Second Nature and Pleasurable Kingdom. He has appeared on the National Geographic Channel, The Nature of Things (CBC), and in several documentary films, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Nature, and others. http://www.jonathanbalcombe.com





Article Thread

Balcombe, Jonathan (2016) In praise of fishes: Précis of What a fish knows (Balcombe 2016). Animal Sentience 8(1)

Wintner, Robert (2016) Reef society and the tyranny of data. Animal Sentience 8(2)

Kramer, Leo Bernd (2017) What does it feel like to be an electroreceptive fish?. Animal Sentience 8(3)

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr. (2017) The potential for sentience in fishes. Animal Sentience 8(4)

Siebeck, Ulrike E. (2017) Fish are flexible learners who can discriminate human faces. Animal Sentience 8(5)

Levenda, Kelly (2017) Sensitizing humans to fish sentience. Animal Sentience 8(6)

Balcombe, Jonathan (2017) Fishes are gaining academic respect. Animal Sentience 8(7)