Animal welfare advocates should include fish in their lineup of animals to advocate for, a new Australian study appears to show. The study, Fish Intelligence, Sentience and Ethics, published last week in the journal Animal Cognition, shows that in many ways fish have cognitive capacity that is similar to that of vertebrates, and feel pain in ways similar to many mammals – including humans.
Fish Have Memories, Cognition, Complex Social Systems And Can Recognize Other Individual Fish And Feel Pain In Ways Similar To Humans, New Study Finds
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Animal welfare advocates should include fish in their lineup of animals to advocate for, a new Australian study appears to show.
The study, Fish Intelligence, Sentience and Ethics, published last week in the journal Animal Cognition, shows that in many ways fish have cognitive capacity that is similar to that of vertebrates, and feel pain in ways similar to many mammals – including humans – Ha’aretz reported.
Australian researcher Culum Brown analyzed studies about fish behavior and their sensory abilities and compared them to various vertebrate species.
Brown also found that many species of fish have memories. In one experiment, fish were trained to flee danger through a specific hole in a net. A year later, they successfully escaped danger through the same hole.
He found that fish live in developed social systems, can recognize other individual fish, learn from one another, and pass on “cultural traditions” like the best places to find food, to the next generation. They also form partnerships – for example, joining with others to hunt for food – even with other species. They also build shelters and hiding places by heaping small mounds of stones.
Having developed-cognitive abilities is a prerequisite for animals to feel pain that is not merely a reflex, but expresses distress that has a conscious or emotional dimension. This is what has traditionally served as the basis for legislation whose aim is to prevent animal pain and suffering.
Brown believes that fish have developed cognitive abilities and therefore feel pain in ways similar to mammals.
For example, when fish are exposed to painful stimuli, they become distracted and don’t notice dangers that otherwise would cause a flight response. Fish brains also have mechanisms similar to mammals and other vertebrates, including human beings.
“A review of the evidence for pain perception strongly suggests that fish experience pain in a manner similar to the rest of the vertebrates. Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any nonhuman vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioral and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection [in animal welfare law] as any other vertebrate,” Brown wrote.
Brown also noted that “the perception of an animal’s intelligence often drives our decision whether or not to include them in our moral circle.”
In Jewish law, fish are exempt from the need to be ritually slaughtered.
Through much of antiquity and early modern times, the requirement of Jewish ritual slaughter was thought to have been instituted in part to minimize any pain and distress an animal suffers when being killed for food or sacrifice.