Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Fish do feel pain: Yes they do, science tells us

Fish are intelligent and sentient animal beings

A new book titled Do fish feel pain? by the renowned scientist, Victoria Braithwaite, is a very important read for those interested in the general topic of pain in animals, especially because it has been long assumed that fish are not sentient beings and are not all that intelligent. A few years ago I reviewed the literature about sentience in fish and other animals who live beneath the surface (see also) and it's clear that a strong case can be made for protecting fish and other aquatic animals from harm. Professor Braithwaite's book contains an incredible amount of recent scientific data that support this idea. 

Many people will likely not take or have the time to read her book, so let me tell you what she says at the beginning of her chapter titled "Looking to the future." She writes: "I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals -- and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies." (page 153).

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Professor Braithwaite then goes on to note that these data will require us to change the ways in which we interact with fish because we now know that they suffer and feel pain. Catch-and-release programs surely need to be curtailed because even if fish survive their encounter with a hook they do suffer and die from the stress of being caught, fighting to get the hook out of their mouth or other body areas, and the wounds they endure (for a study on catch and release methods and mortality in fish see). Even hunters agree that catch-and-release are unethical and that torturing a fish at the end of a hook is just wrong. 

It would be singularly unethical not to increase protection for fish and other animals who we previously thought weren't sentient. Teaching our children that ever popular catch-and-release programs are inhumane is a good way to go for making the future for fish and other animals a more humane and pleasant experience. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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