DawnWatch: "Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?…" UK Guardian, 21 June, 2007

June 22nd, 2007 6:05 pm by Kelly Garbato

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From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Jun 21, 2007 6:16 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: “Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?…” UK Guardian, 21 June, 2007

The UK’s Thursday, June 21 Guardian has a piece headed, “Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?: Animal rights campaigners are turning their attention to aquariums. But should we really get worked up about angel fish and guppies, wonders Harry Pearson.” (p 18)

Pearson opens with:

“When I was a child, my Aunt Nancy had a tank of tropical fish – guppies, black mollies, angelfish – in the front room of her house in Redcar. If anyone asked if the fish had enough space, her reply was automatic. ‘Oh yes,’ she would say. ‘You see, they only have a memory of five seconds.’ The fish, it seemed, swam to one end of the aquarium and by the time they had got there, they had forgotten everything they had seen. As a result, the fish found this small box of water as infinite and fascinating as the universe.

“That fish have an incredibly short memory is known to everyone. Unfortunately, like many well-known ‘facts’, it is not true. Several years ago researchers at the Australian Veterinary Association blew the five-second-memory idea right out of the water. Today, the generally held view is that fish have a memory span of at least a few months.

Pearson writes of having is conscience pricked on holiday in Scotland last year when he passed a series of fish farms. He describes them as “A grim breakwater, rows of steel cages…more Cell Block H than Ambridge.”

He also describes visiting a local aquarium and trying to “put myself in the fish’s position”. He writes, “I wonder if it has enough space and whether the cries of the small blond boy bouncing up and down in front of a tank of common clownfish yelping, ‘Mam, mam! It’s Nemo, mam!’ is irritating it as much as it is me.”

Pearson tells us that according to Dr Culum Brown, a specialist in fish behaviour at Macquarie University in Sydney, “Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of ‘higher’ vertebrates including non-human primates.”

But Pearson writes:

“Perhaps intelligence is the wrong criterion, anyway. Just because a living creature has a short attention span and is of limited intellect, is no reason to put it behind glass and stare at it all day, even if it did work for Big Brother. What about the fishes’ living conditions? Public aquaria, like zoos, are governed by the 1981 Zoo Licensing Act, which does not lay down any regulations about tank (or cage) size. And the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ standards for modern zoo practice are not specific about space. ‘Providing for their needs’ is the closest it gets. This offers enough loopholes, frankly, for a humphead wrasse to swim through.”

You can read the whole thoughtful piece on line at http://www.guardian.co.uk/animalrights/story/0,,2107775,00.html.

Please send supportive letters to The Guardian. The Guardian takes letters at letters [at] guardian.co.uk and advises, “We do not publish letters where only an email address is supplied; please include a full postal address and a reference to the relevant article. If you do not want your email address published, please say so. We may edit letters.”

Yours and the animals’,
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited — leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)

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