Feb 8, 2017

What a Fish Knows

the Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
by Jonathan Balcombe

We don't know much, relatively speaking, about fishes- that's my grand impression from this book. Science is just starting to get an idea of what a fish can sense, know, remember and feel. It's hard to think of a fish feeling anything- probably because they lack facial expressions we can read, and don't make a lot of sounds we can interpret. So it's hard to empathize with them. But just because an organism has been around for millions of years without changing its outer appearance much doesn't mean it is dim-witted or simple- on the contrary, it's probably very successful. And many fishes have- according to this book- surprisingly sophisticated inner lives. Some examples of their powers of reasoning and problem-solving are on par with that of rats or apes. This book is so full of examples (most of them too brief to really satisfy my curiosity) of the varied and complex abilities fish can demonstrate that I have no way to share them with you here. I was expecting some of it to echo material from Fish Behavior, but there was a lot more new information here, much of it recently discovered. I was especially intrigued by the complex relationship and social memory skills cleaner type fishes have, and the deviousness other species use for their own ends. It is also very alarming to read about how much we have depleted the oceans- don't think that by eating farm-raised fish you are necessarily protecting wild populations . . .

The sample of a puffer fish creating artwork out of sand still boggles my mind- I first saw it presented in a documentary. And the many studies that scientists have made to test fish abilities and reasoning skills are very ingenious- although sometimes you end up feeling bad for the individuals, especially if they do have the level of awareness this book posits.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5         288 pages, 2016

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