When it comes to animals who people consider warm and fuzzy, fish are typically overlooked. Given their cold-blooded biology and underwater residence, it can be more difficult to relate to them than their mammalian counterparts.
And because they look, act, and live very differently from animals we’re used to interacting with, we often assume fish can’t feel pain (they don’t scream, afterall) or have sub-par intelligence — both of which have been used as justification for exploiting them on a massive scale: it’s estimated that 90 billion marine animals are killed worldwide every year.
Fish, however, are more complex than they may appear, and the evidence suggests that they’re widely underestimated. Scientists are just beginning to understand these incredible creatures, and with that in mind, here are five reasons why fish are smarter than you think:
They have excellent memories.
As Dr. Kevin Warburton, adjunct researcher with Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society, told Care2.com: “There’s been a lot of work done over the last 15 years on learning and memory in fish and it as been found that fish are quite sophisticated. Fish can remember prey types for months; they can learn to avoid predators after being attacked once and they retain this memory for several months; and carp that have been caught by fishers avoid hooks for at least a year.”
They use tools.
Research has shown that these water-bound creatures can utilize instruments to achieve goals. Studies suggest certain types of wrasse use rocks to crush sea urchins (in order to eat the inside), and one diver even snapped a photo of a blackspot tuskfish hitting a clam against a rock for the same purpose. Then there are cichlids and catfish, who’ve been spotted gluing their eggs to leaves and small rocks so they can carry them around if their nests are disturbed.
They engage social strategies.
As it turns out, fish have been found to possess something called “Machiavellian intelligence” — the ability to manipulate or mediate situations with others. One study found that cleaner fish (who eat parasites and dead skin off of other fish) have to find a balance with their “clients,” avoiding eating too much or too little, and find ways to reconcile if they accidentally bite or take the cleaning process too far.
They like massages.
As part of their services, cleaner fish have been known to offer rudimentary massages. To figure out why, scientists created fake cleaners (some of which were equipped with a rotating brush to create a massage effect) and had them interact with surgeonfish. It turned out that the massages produced “positive, short-term physiological effects in fish” — just as in humans.
They “talk” to each other.
Just because humans can’t understand them, doesn’t mean they’re not communicating. A New Zealand researcher discovered that fish communicate with noises including “grunts, chirps and pops.” These can mean different things, and the sounds are believed to be used to attract mates, scare off predators or figuring out their surroundings.
All of these are excellent reasons to leave seafood off your plate. Check out our list of 4 Awesome Vegan Seafood Options for cruelty-free meal ideas!