Landmark Study Fleshes Out Fishy Friendships

If you ever acquired tropical fish for a freshwater fish tank, you might have already come to the conclusion that fish have personalities.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how they’d rub against the glass when you slide your hand across it, or they would perk up when you gave them some additional attention?

However, there was no scientific evidence to back up your claims. Dissimilar to what is known about our cats and dogs, fish were thought by many to lack sensibilities. That was until we've learned that our aquariums might also be considered 'think tanks.'

Brits were the first to hook some evidence . . .

Now, it seems fish can form friendships, experience ‘positive emotion’ and relate with their owners in one-on-one engagements. This was proven out scientifically. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), in a new landmark study, it was determined that zebra-fish are indeed social animals, in a similar way to humans and other mammals.

The researchers reported that when the fish were in a group setting like an aquarium, they exhibited signs of being emboldened. They displayed a kind of “social buffering,” where they were less timid when confronted by danger. This behavior was also determined to be similar to how mammals act in the same type of situations.

Depression & Friendships . . .

Based on these findings, scientists hope zebra-fish can now be used as a model to study social effects on human health, particularly in dealing with isolation, which can have a significant impact on conditions such as depression.

When the head of the RSPCA’s research animals department, Dr. Penny Hawkins was asked if fish could form friendships, she note: “It depends how you define friendship. It’s not going to be analogous to human friendship.

But if you think of friendship in terms of being with another individual who you are familiar with and whose company you seek and who makes you feel positive emotions, then these are fish friendships.”

Fishy tastes . . .

Dr. Hawkins said the study also added to the growing body of evidence that fish should not be viewed as lesser animals.

“I think if you are going to think it’s okay to eat any animal, then you have to realize what you are doing,” she said.

“You are causing the death of an animal who is sentient, who has experiences, interests.”

While the RSPCA was not advocating vegetarianism, they were proposing a “welfare friendly” labeling scheme for meat and fish.

“If you do choose to eat meat and fish, just be aware of what you are buying into and make sure you go for higher welfare labels and not just the cheapest,” she said.

Are fish thinkers?

Professor Rui Oliveira, of the ISPA university in Lisbon, who led the study discussed man’s perception of fish based on this new knowledge.

“What this study shows is certainly they change the way they perceive their environment when others are present, which suggests they might be cognitively more complex than we originally thought.

“Maybe because of that people will become more aware of their needs and welfare issues. I think if it helps, it’s great. There are all the myths about fish have a memory of five seconds, like in [the film Finding Nemo,] . . . [but] that’s obviously not the case.”

Fish Fry Anyone?

So now that you’ve garnered some new insight regarding our finned friends and their ability to feel in a similar fashion to mammals, will that change your eating habits at all? Or like cows, lambs and pigs will you continue your diet as you have in the past? Comment below. Would love to hear your feedback on the topic?


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