Thursday, October 13, 2005

Geee, Fish Feel Pain. Can you Imagine That?! (Sarcastic)

Great article. Good for those times you run into those people that for some odd reason insist that fish don't feel pain. I've never understood that as they clearly have nerves and a brain! Perhaps a case of rationalization. Amazing too that they can actually speak for the experience of a fish.

The article is listed below, but there are pictures via the link.

What Fish Feel

Researcher Stephanie Yue of the University of Guelph in Canada shares her
teams surprising findings on fish sentience and ponders the ethical

It is not uncommon to find a variety of whole fish displayed on ice at any
average grocery store. Yet practically every other type of meat is cut
into portions and wrapped in clean packages that bear no physical
semblance to the animal from whom they came. While most people in our
Western culture would find it disturbing to see whole cows and pigs on
sale for meat, most have no problem with the sight of a large salmon laid
out in a similar manner.

A case of classical conditioningcued by a blue light signal, a trout swims
through a door into an adjacent chamber in order to avoid an oncoming
plunging dip net. photos: Stephanie Yue


Our emotional distance from fish may stem from the general feeling that
they fall below the phylogenetic line where sentience begins. This may be
because our present knowledge of assessing suffering in fish is
inadequatein part because fish do not typically display traditional and
obvious signs we are familiar with in other animals. They are not capable
of facial expression, nor can most species of fish vocalize; given their
general anatomical structure, changes in body posture are extremely
limited. Consequently, their use in scientific experimentation, in place
of birds and mammals, is seen as ethically acceptable.

Overcoming Taboo

Its not surprising then to see that, according to statistics provided by
the Canadian Council on Animal Care, there is a rising trend in the use of
fish in research. In Canada, there was a 463 percent increase between 1975
and 2002, resulting in over 600,000 fish used for scientific research in
2002. Fish consumption has also risen steadily, mostly due to increased
interest in a healthy alternative to traditional protein sources such as
beef, chicken and pork. Huge numbers of fish are used by humans on a
regular basis.

However, recent anatomical, physiological, neuropharmacological and
behavioral studies suggest fish can suffer in ways similar to "higher"
vertebrate animals. Considering the large numbers of fish we use, these
findings should be enough of a reason for us to consider their welfare as
a serious matter. In addition, animal welfare should be defined by how an
animal "feels"not just by how well it physically copes with environmental
conditions such as absence of disease, lack of injury and good growth.
Since sentient creatures have the capacity to subjectively and consciously
experience things, it makes sense to investigate the fishs capacity to

This is the project our fish welfare group at the University of Guelph is
currently undertaking. It is not a trivial endeavor, for whether fish even
possess the neuroanatomical structures that generate the phenomenon of
consciousness is still a subject up for debate. The topic of consciousness
has had a tumultuous history itself, and it has been less than a couple
decades since words like "consciousness" and "sentience" have reappeared
in scientific animal literature. We are only slowly overcoming the taboo
of studying conscious thought processes and voluntary behavior.

From our studies on highly domesticated rainbow trout, we have seen these
fish show behavior that is much more flexible and complex than was
previously acknowledged. We have found that trout have some cognitive
capacity that rivals that of mammalian laboratory animals, like rats. They
not only show the ability to learn, but they also have memory of the
things they learnedso they can anticipate events and adjust their behavior
accordingly. This means some of their behavioral repertoire is
"purposeful" and lends evidence toward "conscious" behavior.

Analyzing Fear

Not unlike a rat who will press a lever for a food pellet, the trout in
this photograph presses a pendulum for a food reward during a recent
investigation of fear responses in rainbow trout.


Most of our experiments delve into the phenomenon of fear. We try to tease
apart which responses to negative stimuli (in our case, an oncoming dip
net) are likely to be reflexive and which are deliberate. These
experiments often require fish to be trained in tasks ranging from simply
swimming away from an area where an aversive stimulus resides, to highly
artificial and relatively sophisticated tasks such as pressing a lever in
order to obtain a reward.

We found that trout follow similar behavioral patterns when frightened, as
do other animals like mice. Mice show avoidance, fleeing, freezing, and
scanning of their environment and general decrease in activity followed by
gradual resumption of normal behavior. Mice are deemed sentient animals
with the capacity for a range of subjective experiences. Why then should
these same behavioral patterns, when seen under similar experimental
paradigms, not be employed as evidence toward the possibility of
subjective experiences in fish?

There is more evidence that fish do have some level of consciousness than
there is evidence against it, and it is logically more likely that fish
are sentient animals than they are not. What level of consciousness they
possess, however, remains to be determined. We still have much to learn
before we can properly generate guidelines specifically tailored to the
needs of different species of fish kept in captivity. Yet we are moving in
the right direction by entertaining the notion that fish may indeed be
worthy of more moral consideration than they have had in the past.

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