Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

"Do fish feel pain?" redux: An interview with the author who shows of course they do

Fish feel pain and are more intelligent than previously thought

A few months ago I wrote a short essay concerning pain and sentience in fish. I focused on a book written by Dr. Victoria Braithwaite titled "Do Fish Feel Pain?". In her very interesting book Dr. Braithwaite concluded, "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). I concluded, "It would be singularly unethical not to increase protection for fish and other animals who we previously thought weren't sentient."

A recent interview with Dr. Braithwaite shows that while she is concerned with the pain and suffering that fish endure at the hands/hooks of humans, she can hardly be called a "radical animal activist." This is an important point because to be concerned about animal welfare and animal protection is not a radical position. Indeed, one could argue that we all should be very concerned with expanding our compassion footprint and not to do so is the radical view.

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Some quotes from the interview with Dr. Braithwaite are worth noting:

"We now know that fish actually are cognitively more competent than we thought before -- some species of fish have very sophisticated forms of cognition," she said. "In our experiments we showed that if we hurt fish, they react, and then if we give them pain relief, they change their behavior, strongly indicating that they feel pain."

"Electrical stunning may change the way we harvest fish at sea," she said. "We have a responsibility, I think, to make clean and quick kills of fish we eat. Certainly, most of us are not comfortable with piles of fish slowly suffocating on the decks of fishing trawlers at sea and in port. People are rightly asking, 'Isn't there a better way?'"

(Note Dr. Braithwaite says she thinks we have a responsibility to make clean and quick kills. Of course we do, as her own and others' research clearly demonstrates.)

Dr. Braithwaite also argues that the latest scientific evidence concerning pain and suffering in fish suggests that the protections currently given to birds and mammals should be widened to include fish. In fact, the vast majority of mammals and birds used in research and for food are not really granted much protection at all. When we eat sentient beings we're eating pain and misery. It's a matter of who's for dinner, not what's for dinner

We can all do more to make the world a better place for all beings, sentient or not. Almost daily we're learning more and more about the fascinating lives of animals who we once thought weren't all that smart or sentient. We know they have a point of view and don't like being harmed, just as you and I and our companion animals don't like being harmed. 

I just discovered this article about the government's wanton killing of fish and birds, from which this is taken: 

Last year, Illinois wildlife officials poisoned 90 tons of goldfish, gizzard and shad in the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal with the chemical Rotenone, which suffocates fish, to support the sport fishing industry. A year earlier they poisoned tens of thousands of goldfish, koi, bass, crappie, catfish and sunfish/bluegill hybrids in Chicago's Lincoln Park to rehab the pond.

Other atrocities are mentioned in the essay. 

 


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

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