June 23, 2014
Fish Are Much More Intelligent than We Thought

Over the past decade or so, there have been ongoing studies concerning that nature and the intelligence of various aquatic animals including whales, dolphins, sea lions, octopi and others. But until more recently, fish in general had been left somewhat out of the equation. They were considered mindless, emotionless and insensitive to pain or pleasure.

Of course, anyone who has ever kept a fish as a pet is likely to disagree with you. Goldfish, oscars, clown fish, and other fish kept in captivity have proven to be adaptive to their environment, and can distinguish between their caregivers and other humans. They may be willing to allow familiar humans to feed them by hand, and interact with them in other ways. They are able to tell when food is about to be introduced into their tank and respond accordingly. And, as any fish owner is likely to tell you, they have personalities and an apparent group hierarchy.

A recent study conducted by Culum Brown, a University of Edinburgh biologist who is studying the evolution of cognition in fish, says, "Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of 'higher' vertebrates, including nonhuman primates." The article, "Fish Intelligence, sentience and ethics", is discussed in another Inquisitr article in more detail.

Dr. Theresa Burt de Perera of Oxford University has a particular interest in the ability of fish to use spatial cognition. Fish face problems similar to terrestrials in that they need to learn and remember information in their environments to orient efficiently. Things like where the danger is, what is likely to harm or eat them, and good places to go to avoid such dangers. She is curious about an organ they possess called the later line, which they use to detect sounds in the water, and how it helps them map space.

Perera has been quoted as saying, "We're now finding that [fish] are very capable of learning and remembering, and possess a range of cognitive skills that would surprise many people." After building obstacles in a tank she observed that the occupants were quickly able to memorize them, and to recognize when they were moved to another location.

Fish are members of the vertebrate community, just as farm animals are, just as dogs and cats and other domesticated animals are, and just as humans are as well. Studies have found that most vertebrates seem to have intelligence, social behaviors, and some small amount of skill in using tools at the very least. Many people in the scientific realm feel that the concept of what makes a being sentient should be explored further, and stricter regulations on how we interact with animals and how we consume them should be rethought for the greater good of all--including all non-human persons...