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What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

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A New York Times Bestseller Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquar A New York Times Bestseller Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish—more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined—we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian—in other words, much like us. What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives—a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel. Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean. Teeming with insights and exciting discoveries, What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life. What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins—the pet goldfish included.


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A New York Times Bestseller Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquar A New York Times Bestseller Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish—more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined—we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian—in other words, much like us. What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives—a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel. Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean. Teeming with insights and exciting discoveries, What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life. What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins—the pet goldfish included.

30 review for What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X insecurity is paranoia

    Years ago I had an extraordinary experience with squids when I was snorkelling off an unknown reef very close to a tiny island about 100 yards from shore. If the reef had been known there would have been very few parrotfish and cowfish, both of which are good eating. There would also have been no supermale parrotfish. A supermale is a female that has turned into a male and is double or more the size of the other fish and also much more beautiful and brightly coloured and absolutely delicious to Years ago I had an extraordinary experience with squids when I was snorkelling off an unknown reef very close to a tiny island about 100 yards from shore. If the reef had been known there would have been very few parrotfish and cowfish, both of which are good eating. There would also have been no supermale parrotfish. A supermale is a female that has turned into a male and is double or more the size of the other fish and also much more beautiful and brightly coloured and absolutely delicious to eat. So I was snorkelling and I saw a little squid, it stayed still in the water and was rapidly changing colour. Then it was joined by another, then another until there were about 7 of them of varying sizes from about the size of your hand up to forearm sized all in a row and all rapidly cycling colours. I called out to my ex to come and see but come slowly not to scare them. I didn't think they would stay. He swam over and by then there were about 11 squids and it was apparent to both of us that they were staring at me. They were as curious and interested in me as I was in them and they didn't go away for quite a few minutes. They were no more shy than I was and as I had called my ex, so they had 'called' each other. Perhaps it was because no one knows of the reef they live in they weren't frightened of people, I don't know. What I learned from this book: 1. If we thought of fish as we do mammals we would stop thinking of them as 'other' and realise that they have the same five senses (plus more). Having the senses means using them and implies learning from experience (don't touch that sea urchin again, it not only stings, but poisons). 2. That people judge intelligence by how like us the animal thinks. We do too. All those books on animal intelligence are just about measuring how like us the animals solve problems that humans set them. 3. That scientists rail against anthropomorphising animals, but if we did a bit more with fish, if we were more empathetic and understanding we would see that they have personalities, liked to play and not pretend that they can't feel pain and have no consciousness so it's ok to come into my shop and say (as plenty of customers do) that they are 'basically vegetarians' but eat fish. Here in the Caribbean, diving is good career. People come every week and want to be taken to see the reefs. The divers nurture relationships with generally-friendly fish like rays, giant groupers (Goliath fish) and some of the sharks so that their clients will have an interesting experience. Not all of these relationships are based on food. They never are with sharks. It would be foolish to feed sharks! But nevertheless, over years the divers and individual sharks get friendly and the sharks come and rub against the divers, much as cats do, and like to be caressed. What's in it for the fish is the same as what's in it for the people, it's entertaining, it's nice to see friends, what else could it be? The book, to sum up, was quite boring. I was hoping for more than the author's conjectures based on our common senses, what is known about fish and their life cycles, and anecdotes (like mine). Few of his assumptions and conclusions were ones that were new to me. I don't think it's the fault of the author, it's just that fishes inner lives are mostly a mystery. 3.5 stars rounded up because the author did his best and at least opened a dialogue into the idea that fish are as deserving as consideration as other animals when it comes to protecting them from pain and harm.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Who ever knew that s book about fish could be both so fascinating and illuminating. Don't think I will ever look at fish the same way again. So many characteristics that make us human do come into play with fish. Communication skills, empathy, using tools and other clever ways to get what they need, including cleaning. The chapters are nicely separated, covering a topic at a time. So many different types of fish, I spent much time looking them up to see their pictures. Some can change from femsle Who ever knew that s book about fish could be both so fascinating and illuminating. Don't think I will ever look at fish the same way again. So many characteristics that make us human do come into play with fish. Communication skills, empathy, using tools and other clever ways to get what they need, including cleaning. The chapters are nicely separated, covering a topic at a time. So many different types of fish, I spent much time looking them up to see their pictures. Some can change from femsle to make, what a clever advantage. Some have elaborate courtships in order to attract a mate. My favorite little puffer fish for instance uses his fins, to create an unusual and elaborate sand circle, much like the crop circles in farmers fields. In the middle he further furnishes his new lady love with broken shells, seaweed, other types of bling. All this for one mating session. Intrepid little fella. So many fascinating facts, well worth a read. Audio listeners be aware that illustrations are in the book. So many times the sudio does not contain a PDF file.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Navi

    This is the most delightfully charming work of nonfiction I have read in a long time! I have heard on numerous occasions that fish are nothing more than “water vegetables”, lacking feelings of pain, memory, familial love and social structure. They are continuously looked upon as a distinct species separate from the rest of the animal kingdom because they do not embody features we associate with more “sentient beings”. I used to work in a Fish and Reptile department at a pet store. I have intimate This is the most delightfully charming work of nonfiction I have read in a long time! I have heard on numerous occasions that fish are nothing more than “water vegetables”, lacking feelings of pain, memory, familial love and social structure. They are continuously looked upon as a distinct species separate from the rest of the animal kingdom because they do not embody features we associate with more “sentient beings”. I used to work in a Fish and Reptile department at a pet store. I have intimate memories of fish that recognized me when I came near their tank, liked to be touched, and had specific preferences with which fish they spend their time with. At the time, I thought it was all in my head and I was giving fish more credit than they deserved by anthropomorphizing them. However, there was always a lingering doubt in the back of my mind. This book was a luminous revelation to me. The author's sincere passion and care for the welfare and advocacy of all "fishes" (instead of grouping them all together as a singular fish, the author makes a point of using the plural form to indicate that they are a group of individual fish with different likes, dislikes etc.) is embedded throughout the text. Some interesting things I learned: - Our assumption that fish are quiet is false. They make an array of different sounds to communicate with one another - one comical method is through (I kid you not) farting! - There was a study exploring the relationship that Koi have with music. The researchers found that Koi correctly discerned different musical cues and were able to classify music by artistic genre (blues, classics etc). - Fish are curious beings and gain stimulation through various modes of play. There is an anecdotal case where a cat and a fish play a running game with each other that was endearing. This is especially important for fish owners. I can’t imagine what a fish must feel living in an empty tank isolated without anything providing a source of entertainment or aesthetic comfort. - The intricacies involved with the symbiotic relationship between fish and their cleaner were fascinating. After reading this, I have a much deeper understanding and respect for our underwater cousins. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    Fish get short shrift when we are thinking about animal behaviour. Consider the poor maligned gold fish, which is reputed to have an attention span of mere seconds. Incorrect, as it turns out—gold fish can learn tasks and retain that learning for months. I’m not a diver. I can’t swim and water will always be a scary place for me, but I can see where this book would be very interesting to anyone who spends time in the underwater world. Fish are much more interesting that I gave them credit for. I Fish get short shrift when we are thinking about animal behaviour. Consider the poor maligned gold fish, which is reputed to have an attention span of mere seconds. Incorrect, as it turns out—gold fish can learn tasks and retain that learning for months. I’m not a diver. I can’t swim and water will always be a scary place for me, but I can see where this book would be very interesting to anyone who spends time in the underwater world. Fish are much more interesting that I gave them credit for. I’m a birder, after all, and so I’m a little biased (although I certainly know that the term “bird brain” is actually more of a compliment than an insult). It’s difficult for us to imagine what a fish’s life is like—they live in a completely different medium than we do, have extra senses that we can’t fathom, and have unexpressive faces. I think that last point is the one that leads us to underestimate fishes—we value expressiveness over evidence, I think, because it’s something we’re good at. If you are interested in matters of animal intelligence (and human judginess) I would recommend Franz de Waal’s excellent book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    "What many of these people like about fishes is not that they are like us. What is beautiful about them, and equally worthy of respect, is how they are not like us. Their different ways of being in the world are a source of fascination and admiration, and cause for sympathy. We can connect across the great divide that separates us, as when I have felt the gentle tugs of discus fishes rising to pluck food from my fingertips, or when a grouper fish approaches a trusted diver to receive caresses. Am "What many of these people like about fishes is not that they are like us. What is beautiful about them, and equally worthy of respect, is how they are not like us. Their different ways of being in the world are a source of fascination and admiration, and cause for sympathy. We can connect across the great divide that separates us, as when I have felt the gentle tugs of discus fishes rising to pluck food from my fingertips, or when a grouper fish approaches a trusted diver to receive caresses. Among other things, fishes use their brains to survive and flourish, and one of the ways I have sought to raise the status of fishes has been to draw attention to their awareness and cognitive skills. But extolling the mental virtues of other species inflates the importance of intelligence, when intelligence really has little to do with moral standing... Sentience--the capacity to feel, to suffer pain, to experience joy--is the bedrock of ethics. It is what qualifies one for the moral community." -"Epilogue" This book is excellent. It taught me more about fishes than I'd ever expected to learn, and it is fascinating in the details Balcombe selected to share with his readers. What impresses me the most, other than the awesomeness and strangeness of creation expressed through fishes, is Balcombe's obvious love for and admiration of fishes. He makes them real to me through scientific evidence but also through anecdotal evidence. I appreciate that he mixes stories with science to not only prove his points but to also add sympathy and emotion to his arguments. The main claim in this book is that fishes are not fish. They are not a mass of creatures without individuality, emotion, intelligence, or knowledge. They are individuals with personalities, memories, and culture. The way that fishes interact with each other, socially, sexually, and culturally is so similar to we humans that it makes it impossible not to see fishes as sentient beings, deserving of our respect. Finally, I love the subtitle. For Balcombe, I know that it refers to evolution and the concept that life on our planet started in the water, and that at some point, our first land ancestors emerged out of the ocean and started developing bodies that could function on land. For me, it means that God created us all, so we all have common ancestry. Also, there was water before God created anything else, so in creation, the concept of life beginning in the water is the same as it is in evolutionary biology. Fishes existed before people, and they had more time to develop, evolve, and bond with the rest of creation. Why would we humans think we are any better than fishes? We have the same creator, and we are made from the same materials. We are all birthed from water. I highly recommend this book to people who already love fishes but especially to people who are convinced that the things who live in water and don't blink are not intelligent individuals. You'll be shocked to find you are very wrong!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lori Ann

    Brain candy for any diver...a must read. The last two chapters point out a ton of inconvenient truths for fish eaters. Looks like there are going to be more nuts and beans in my diet.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim Martin

    _What A Fish Knows_ was a quick, enjoyable read that veered between being a popular science book on the latest findings on fish behavior, memory, sensory abilities, and intelligence and a book strongly advocating for a kinder, more empathetic treatment of fish (and also essentially never, ever eating fish again). I can understand how one type of writing (fish are both surprisingly intelligent and quite aware of their environment and what happens to them in ways that might surprise most readers) _What A Fish Knows_ was a quick, enjoyable read that veered between being a popular science book on the latest findings on fish behavior, memory, sensory abilities, and intelligence and a book strongly advocating for a kinder, more empathetic treatment of fish (and also essentially never, ever eating fish again). I can understand how one type of writing (fish are both surprisingly intelligent and quite aware of their environment and what happens to them in ways that might surprise most readers) would lead to the other (in the words of the author, “fishes are individual beings whose lives have intrinsic value – that is, value to themselves quite apart from any utilitarian value they might have to us,” very much echoing the views of _Relicts of a Beautiful Sea_ by Christopher Norment, who covered rare desert pupfish of the American Southwest at length, a book well worth reading). I rather preferred the more straightforward presentation of the latest findings on fish behavior and cognition than the more advocate aspects (most prevalent in the opening section and again towards the end), though even I cringed after reading the chapter at the end of the book describing the suffering and waste brought about by modern fishing practices (I am unsure if having read the book made that section even more cringeworthy, as I have always lamented so many things about modern fishing, such as the massive death of animals in the form of bycatch and the damage brought about by trawling nets). I will admit that some of the more advocacy type claims made early in the book (such as on page 19, “we’ll explore how fishes are not just sentient, but aware, communicative, social, tool-using, virtuous, even Machiavellian” or on page 20 “[a]nother prejudice we hold against fish is that they are “primitive,” which in this context has a host of unflattering connotations; simple, undeveloped, dim, inflexible, and unfeeling”) made me think twice about reading the book but also, after reading it, deciding I was a bit too hasty, as the author did indeed provide examples of fish tool use, evidence of perhaps friendships among fish and among fish and non-fish, and lots of examples of Machiavellian behavior. It’s not that I thought fish were stupid or dim-witted or was surprised that they had some complex behaviors, but the more emotional aspects of what he wrote I was a little leery of (were the fish being anthromorphized or was this part of a philosophy that granted sentience to just about any animal and what did virtuous mean in this context?). Another aspect of the book, which the author identified very early on, was his heavily reliance on anecdotes. While studies were definitely mentioned (and documented in the copious bibliography), there were lots and lots of examples, often provided by non-scientists, of fish behavior and intelligence indicating levels of cognition and recognition of individuals (be they other fish or non-fish like pet owners or individual divers) well beyond what most people would think of with regards to fish (a relevant quote on page 6, “I have sought to sprinkle the science with stories of people’s encounters with fishes, and I will be sharing some of these as we go along. Anecdotes carry little credibility with scientists, but they provide insight into what animals may be capable of that science has yet to explore”). They were fun to read and did indicate that so much more research can be done, but I sometimes found myself preferring the studies rather than the stories. As far as the science of the book goes, most of it was fascinating. The author organized the book into different sections (“what a fish perceives,” “what a fish feels,” “what a fish thinks,” “who a fish knows,” and “how a fish breeds”), each section two or three chapters and filled with lots of fascinating facts. The reader learns in the “what a fish perceives” section that some fish, such as bluegill, can see predators in a different part of the pond as they use the underside of the water’s surface as a mirror, that seemingly identical looking fish (such as various species of highly territorial damselfish) can distinguish between various individuals owing to distinctive facial patterns of dots and arcs only visible in UV, each pattern as unique as a human fingerprint, some fish (such as American shad and Gulf menhaden) can hear the ultrasonic sounds produced by predatory dolphins while others, such as cods, perches, and plaices, can hear infrasounds as low as 1 Hz, enabling the fish to migrate long distances using the ambient infrasound produced by waves, tides, and currents moving against cliffs, beaches, and reefs. Far from living in a silent realm, some fish have truly remarkable hearing as well as the mental ability to process it; one study with koi showed that the fish could even “discriminate polyphonic music [playing multiple notes simultaneously], discriminate between melodic patterns, and even classify music by artistic genre.” Not just eyesight and hearing are examined but also the sense of smell and electrorecption, the “biological ability to perceive natural electrical stimuli,” such as by electric eels (as an aside, I did not know that South American electric eels weren’t true eels at all but actually of the knifefish family, more closely related to catfish). The section on fish sensory abilities was not terribly controversial and often backed up some common sense knowledge of fishermen and aquarium owners. The next section, “what a fish feels,” was a bit more, as it often went to heart of people saying that fish don’t feel anything, that they don’t feel pain, that when they look distressed from being handled or hooked it is just a reflex. Early on in the chapter, the author cautioned against “corticocentrism,” the idea that to “possess a humanlike capacity for pain” one must have a neocortex (though quickly acknowledging that few think birds don’t feel pain and also at the same time birds do not possess a neocortex). I feared that the section would be emotional or spiritual or the like (despite the solid science of the previous section), but again I was surprised at the series of very good studies on fish sensory capabilities and the solid science behind assertions that fish experience pain, react to it, and plan to avoid it in the future if possible. Also to my surprise the section didn’t just dwell on fish pain and stress but also fish joy, providing studies (and a lot of anecdotal examples) of fish experiencing joy and playing even as adults. I think my favorite section was next, “what a fish thinks.” By this point I was swept away by some of the fascinating studies and anecdotes of the surprising mental abilities of fish. My favorite by far was the example of the frillfin goby (a fish of the intertidal zones of both eastern and western Atlantic shores). This fish prefers to stay safe in isolated tide pools at low tides, but when danger threatens it can leap with a high degree of success to neighboring pools. As studies showed, the fish does not sense these pools from its own pool, but remarkably “memorizes the topography of the intertidal zone – fixing in its mind the layout of depressions that will form future pools in the rocks at low tide – while swimming over them at high tide.” Also in this section the author demolishes popular conceptions of goldfish memories measured in seconds, provided an example of tool use discovered in 2009 (orange-dotted tuskfish near Palau using “rapid head-flicks and well-timed releases” to open clams against undersea rocks), showing how in one study vermiculate river stingrays in South America (a freshwater species) could problem solve to get food treats, even in several cases “moving away from a strongly attractive cue – the smell of food at one end of the tube [used in the experiment] – and trying the other side…not a trivial a thing…it means they have to work against their natural impulse,” and how archerfish (able to spray jets of water up to ten feet through the air to help them prey on insects) are able to get better at aiming not just from practice but actually watching other archerfish hunt, “a form of grasping something from the perspective of another.” “Who a fish knows” was fascinating, going into aspects of fish sociology. The reader learns the differences between shoals and schools (shoals are groups of fish gathered together and socially interacting but each swim independently and may be facing different directions, while a school is more disciplined with the fish moving at the same speed and in the same direction at a fairly constant distance from one another). Another excellent section, the author covered predator inspection (behavior that lets a predatory fish know it has been spotted by other fish and highly suggestive it should move on) and two extremely interesting sections on cleaner fish and also on cooperative hunting (my favorite example being cooperative hunting between groupers and moray eels, with the groupers actually able to understand and have the moray eels in turn understand pointing, this accomplished by a grouper doing a headstand over a spot where a prey has hidden; this is a “referential gesture, which outside of humans, has only previously been attributed to great apes and ravens”). There was also coverage of fish culture, that non-inherited information passed on by “informed individuals” such as migration routes, ideal forage spots, which predators to avoid, etc. may be lost in overfished species and could be lost forever, complicating recovery efforts. The last section, “how a fish breeds,” was much as I expected it, covering fish breeding, but was still interesting, covering the different ways fish are actually care givers and may protect eggs and young (the cichlids of the great lakes of east Africa get lots of attention) as well as elaborate gender hierarchies and courtship rituals. It included the latest research, such as the 2012 discovery of elaborate, geometric “crop circles” created by male pufferfish off the southern tip of Japan, huge mandalas up to six feet wide and decorated by shells, created by fish only five inches long. The book closed (after a horrifying section on fishing) with another appeal that fish are deserving of empathy. “In those flat, glassy eyes we struggle to see anything more than a vacant stare...[t]heir unblinking eyes – constantly bathed in water and thus in no need of lids – amplify the illusion that they feel nothing.” It was a good book and I am definitely glad I read it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe and narrated by Graham Winton is a delightful and very informative book on fish. It explains how fish can feel pain, probably pleasure too, can plan, remember, scheme, communicate, and think! They have preferences, can be trained, seem to enjoy certain activities or people over others, and they use tools. I am a vegetarian and I don't eat fish due to this reason but it is nice to hear the science behind it. I learned so much in here too! Wow! How different What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe and narrated by Graham Winton is a delightful and very informative book on fish. It explains how fish can feel pain, probably pleasure too, can plan, remember, scheme, communicate, and think! They have preferences, can be trained, seem to enjoy certain activities or people over others, and they use tools. I am a vegetarian and I don't eat fish due to this reason but it is nice to hear the science behind it. I learned so much in here too! Wow! How different fish mate, communicate, use tools, and more! In the end, the author discusses the fishing industry today...ugh! I recommend this to anyone and everyone! So heartwarming all the things the little fish can do and no one seems to know about!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katy Mann

    Read this from a recommendation on a blog. Did not know what to expect, but the book was a lively romp with an intelligent guide through all things fish. Senses, emotions, social structures. Check it out.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Once I heard this book was coming out, I had to have it because, as the author points out, you can't really find an entire book devoted to fish ethology (behavior). Now, this author undoubtedly has a bit of an agenda as you can tell from prior books. He's for animal rights so I wanted to see if he strayed too far from hyperbole. Generally I don't think he did. Mostly he stays with the science and makes some excellent points such as a) fish came way before us so it's not like they've stopped evol Once I heard this book was coming out, I had to have it because, as the author points out, you can't really find an entire book devoted to fish ethology (behavior). Now, this author undoubtedly has a bit of an agenda as you can tell from prior books. He's for animal rights so I wanted to see if he strayed too far from hyperbole. Generally I don't think he did. Mostly he stays with the science and makes some excellent points such as a) fish came way before us so it's not like they've stopped evolving for millions of years and b) fish reaction to pain stimuli and response to pain meds and some parallels to birds indicate they Can feel pain. However, I do mostly maintain my initial ideas that yes... Fish feel pain and think but not to the degree of mammals. (He intimates that they feel acute more than chronic pain). The strong emotional component was even more spurious barring a few anecdotes. That's not to say nothing surprises me though: the mental calculation and deception of certain fishes was surprising and very interesting (the cleaner fish chapter was great!) and the chapter on fish sensory adaptations was wonderful as well. It was a really fun book and it does raise interesting questions on how to treat fish ethically. (I don't eat fish either). However, given the scope of the problems of overfishing, the author didn't give a ton of suggestions. An obvious one would be to explore Which fish are more sentient as people have suggested for apes and birds (macaws and the Corvid families) and maybe give them more consideration (he suggested wrasses but makes some points for chiclids too). I would recommend this book. It will surprise and entertain you!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    I gave this book 3 stars because I think the subject matter is so critical, but I have read some of Balcombe's other work and am left here with the same feeling as with those: the writing is slow, and only sporadically does it pick up into something really enjoyable. This is a shame. I am reminded of books I've read on animal rights, like There Is No Happy Meat and compare it to Jonathan Saffron Foer's Eating Animals - and though I much prefer the message of Bohanec's, it was actually Foer's tha I gave this book 3 stars because I think the subject matter is so critical, but I have read some of Balcombe's other work and am left here with the same feeling as with those: the writing is slow, and only sporadically does it pick up into something really enjoyable. This is a shame. I am reminded of books I've read on animal rights, like There Is No Happy Meat and compare it to Jonathan Saffron Foer's Eating Animals - and though I much prefer the message of Bohanec's, it was actually Foer's that moved me much more (this after being vegan for some years when I first read it). I recently finished another book on animal behavior - Beyond Words by Carl Safina, and I am hard pressed to figure out the difference between his writing and Balcombe's. Could it be the way Safina takes his time and presents the worlds he shows? Could it be that he inserts himself fully into the information he shares? But Balcombe does the same, and I am much more aligned with Balcombe's thoughts and feelings; Safina sees problems and doesn't, say, stop eating salmon. Balcombe sees problems and tries to change them. But from a writing and reading standpoint, I just found this one difficult to get through. I don't doubt Balcombe's science, and I am happy to have the information. It's just not a sit-down-and-enjoy kind of book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Maas

    An incredible array of fish facts that slowly work their way into a thesis What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, by Jonathan Balcombe is first and foremost, an incredible assortment of fish facts. Secondly, it is a book. This is not to diminish it as a book - the incredible insight from the first gives it its power. One of my favorite non-fiction books about the ocean is Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves, where James Nestor acts An incredible array of fish facts that slowly work their way into a thesis What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, by Jonathan Balcombe is first and foremost, an incredible assortment of fish facts. Secondly, it is a book. This is not to diminish it as a book - the incredible insight from the first gives it its power. One of my favorite non-fiction books about the ocean is Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves, where James Nestor acts as a writer/journalist first, and a diver second. Nestor goes to the widest array of the trope - and investigates the Ama, divers, dolphin researchers and everyone else. Balcombe does not do this - he finds fish facts, and keeps at them until the reader gets the tale. Again, this is not to his detriment - it's just his style is facts first, tale second. In his spirit, I'll list some of his insights, and let you come to your own conclusions - On the sheer number of fish What we casually refer to as “fish” is in fact a collection of animals of fabulous diversity. According to FishBase—the largest and most often consulted online database on fishes—33,249 species, in 564 families and 64 orders, had been described as of January 2016. That’s more than the combined total of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. When we refer to “fish” we are referring to 60 percent of all the known species on Earth with backbones. On perhaps the root of our prejudice against fish Among the vertebrate animals—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes—it is the fishes that are the most alien to our sensibilities. Lacking detectable facial expressions and appearing mute, fishes are more easily dismissed than our fellow air breathers. A great concept to try to understand things from an animal's point of view - it may be impossible, but at least you can understand what you are trying to do One of my favorite concepts learned as a student of animal behavior is umwelt—a term created early in the twentieth century by the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll. You can think of an animal’s umwelt as its sensory world. Because their sensory apparatus varies, different species may have different perceptions of the world even if they inhabit the same environment. On the fact that many fish just see more than we do In the ages since, fishes have evolved visual capacities beyond our own. For example, most modern bony fishes are tetrachromatic, allowing them to see colors more vividly than we do. We are trichromatic creatures, which means we possess only three types of cone cells in our eyes and our color spectrum is more limited. Having four types of cone cells, fishes’ eyes provide four independent channels for conveying color information. On an eel's sense of smell But the champion sniffer among all fishes (as far as we know) is the American eel, which can detect the equivalent of less than one ten millionth of a drop of their home water in the Olympic pool. Like salmons, eels make long migrations back to specific spawning sites, and they follow a subtle gradient of scent to get there. On the tastebuds of a fish Taste buds are also more numerous in fishes than in any other animal. For instance, a fifteen-inch channel catfish had approximately 680,000 taste buds on his entire body, including fins—nearly 100 times the human quota. In conclusion And so on! I could go on and on - in short, if you want to know about fish in general, this is a good place to start. Even if you already know quite a bit, I'd give this a shot - you might get a lot!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    It is difficult to look into the eyes of another living creature without wondering what that creature thinks of what he sees in your own eyes. Does that animal wonder what we are and what our intentions might be? Is it perhaps seeing us as an equal that deserves the benefit of the doubt? Or is anything really going on in the brain behind those eyes at all other than the hope that we will provide the animal with something to eat or drink? Humans find it easy to relate to pets, especially dogs and It is difficult to look into the eyes of another living creature without wondering what that creature thinks of what he sees in your own eyes. Does that animal wonder what we are and what our intentions might be? Is it perhaps seeing us as an equal that deserves the benefit of the doubt? Or is anything really going on in the brain behind those eyes at all other than the hope that we will provide the animal with something to eat or drink? Humans find it easy to relate to pets, especially dogs and cats, because those animals readily exhibit affection via their actions and variable facial expressions. But other animals, especially those incapable of changing facial expressions, find it more difficult to claim the respect of human beings. And Jonathon Balcombe contends that fish, of all the members of this too easily written off group of static-faced animals, is probably the most underestimated of the lot. Balcombe offers What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins in hope that the book will change the way that we think about the more than thirty thousand species of fish that exist today before it is too late to save many of them from extinction. Balcombe strives to make us see fish as individuals that can think, feel emotions and pain, make choices, enjoy play, hunt in cooperative groups, learn to use tools, and live complicated social lives. The author rightfully believes that the world’s commercial fishing industry is still so unregulated and out of control that it is in the process of relentlessly destroying the very fish species that make it a viable proposition for today’s fishermen. I submit that anyone who reads What a Fish Knows with an open mind will find it difficult, it not impossible, to argue otherwise. Balcombe builds his case by using both the latest scientific breakthrough discoveries and anecdotal evidence from fish owners, recreational and professional divers, and others whose lifework is caring for and studying fish. The book is split into seven sections: “The Misunderstood Fish,” “What a Fish Perceives,” “What a Fish Feels,” “What a Fish Thinks,” “Who a Fish Knows,” “How a Fish Breeds,” and “Fish Out of Water.” For the most part, the content of each section is as clear as the title, but two of the sections demand a bit of an explanation. “The Misunderstood Fish” section focuses on the point that fish are not the “lowly” creatures that most of us believe them to be. As Balcombe puts it: “Lacking detectable facial expressions and appearing mute, fishes are more easily dismissed than our fellow air breathers. Their place in human culture falls almost universally into two entwined contexts: (1) something to be caught, and (2) something to be eaten.” The “Fish Out of Water” section is the one in which the author stresses “it isn’t easy being a fish in an age of humans.” This is where he exposes the commercial fishing practices that do so much collateral damage to the populations of non-targeted fish, practices that see the wasted-by-catch tonnage rivaling the targeted tonnage taken by some commercial shrimpers and fishermen. According to Balcombe, right at one-third “of the world’s fish catch…is not eaten by humans.” Two paragraphs from What a Fish Knows beautifully summarize what Jonathon Balcombe hopes his readers will take away from his book. The first paragraph appears on page 177 in the “Who a Fish Knows” section, and I quote a portion of it below: “The main conclusion we may draw from these aspects of what a fish knows is that fishes are individuals with minds and memories, able to plan, capable of recognizing others, equipped with instincts and able to learn from experience. In some cases, fishes have culture. As we’ve seen, fishes also show virtue through cooperative relationships both within and between species.” The second paragraph I want to quote from appears on page 207 in the “How a Fish Breeds” section of the book: “Fishes are not merely alive – they have lives. They are not just things, but beings. A fish is an individual with a personality and relationships. He or she can plan and learn, perceive and innovate, soothe and scheme, experience moments of pleasure, fear, playfulness, pain, and – I suspect – joy. A fish feels and knows.” Bottom Line: What a Fish Knows is guaranteed to make the reader rethink his relationship with everything from his pet goldfish to the largest whale in the ocean. It is an eye-opener with a message, but it is also an entertaining book about a cousin of ours we all too often take for granted.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sher

    What a sleeper! A surprisingly wonderful and engaging book about the life of fish. Did you know fish do have feelings, intelligence, use tools, plan, and have culture? Balcombe has that powerful combination as a writer to bring scientific studies alive, and we get lots of fascinating studies in this book presented in such a lively and clear manner. I also appreciate that Balcombe continually presents -well, this is another way we might interpret these results. And, unlike Sy Montgomery's books t What a sleeper! A surprisingly wonderful and engaging book about the life of fish. Did you know fish do have feelings, intelligence, use tools, plan, and have culture? Balcombe has that powerful combination as a writer to bring scientific studies alive, and we get lots of fascinating studies in this book presented in such a lively and clear manner. I also appreciate that Balcombe continually presents -well, this is another way we might interpret these results. And, unlike Sy Montgomery's books that I find to be simply too emotional. Balcombe is not overly sentimental. In fact the information and style is balanced. I've bought my friends copies of this book!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daniel M.

    When we seem them, they’re all a “fish out of water..,” which is a phrase describing someone in an alien place, probably suffering as a side effect. That’s 99% of our experience of fish, but it’s not Balcombe’s experience, and he wants us to know that fish have interesting cognition (learning and performing complex tasks), sophisticated memories, relationships, social bonding, and a real sense of pain that we continuously violate. The book tells us that fish have these rich lives, but we don’t u When we seem them, they’re all a “fish out of water..,” which is a phrase describing someone in an alien place, probably suffering as a side effect. That’s 99% of our experience of fish, but it’s not Balcombe’s experience, and he wants us to know that fish have interesting cognition (learning and performing complex tasks), sophisticated memories, relationships, social bonding, and a real sense of pain that we continuously violate. The book tells us that fish have these rich lives, but we don’t understand them because they’re so alien to us. Without a leg to stand on, literally, or a face to express emotion, or even voices with which to scream, understanding fish requires some sympathy and a deeper understanding that we normally give them. Usually, our experience of fish is a protein on a plate. But they are much more than that. In seven chapters, the book gives the view that we are incredibly species-ist about understanding animals in general, and fish in particular. Chapter 2—what a fish perceives: They see, touch, and sense a rich underwater world in ways that we can’t imagine. What would it be like to have taste buds all over your body, or see the electrical fields of other animals, or feel every tiny passing pressure wave. We feel air pressure when it’s large enough—but imagine feeling every passing breeze at 100X the resolution, or hearing sounds of other fishes pressure wave as they pass by. Chapter 3—what a fish feels: Unlike what your grandfather might have told you, a fish definitely feels pain. That hook in the mouth hurts. But it’s worse to but hauled up in a net from 1000 fathoms down, crushed together with a million of your kind, crushed, suffocated, and decompressed with your guts coming out of your throat. We can’t pretend this isn’t just slaughtering creatures that don’t feel pain. Chapter 4—what a fish thinks: Much to my surprise, fish have a lot more intelligence (and long-term memory) than I’d thought. It’s not just clever skills, but also learning by observation of others behavior (perspective taking), planning out future actions, and remembering skills and patterns for a very long period. There are fish that engage in inter-species social communication, along with temporary upsets, fights, and reconciliation. (Yes, there are even fish that are tool users, which is quite a feat without fingers or hands.) Chapter 5—Who a fish knows: Yes, they have social intelligence as well. They have friends, they mourn the loss of a companion, and even organize hunting parties together. Certain groupers even use referential gestures to point out where food is hiding for a moray. The eel sees the grouper “pointing” at the food (with his whole body), rushes in for the kill, and the grouper benefits by cleaning up the leftovers. That is, the grouper is signaling to his hunting partner, “there’s a fish hiding in here.. go get him!” This is all very much more than I ever would have expected of a fish. Chapter 6—how a fish breeds: I thought I knew a lot about the variety and depth of fish mating and fish-rearing behavior, but since I last read about this, research has shown even more remarkable insights. Yes, there are remarkable swimming displays to attract a mate, and there are amazing constructions that fish will build (without hands!) to show off their prowess and fitness for mating. But there are novel reproduction methods I didn’t know about. Example: the female armored catfish (Corydoras) attaches herself to the genitals of the male to drink his sperm (who knew they had oral sex?), BUT it’s not digested, but pass through her body in seconds to be carefully excreted atop her clutch of just released eggs. (Which means she has a special “pass-through” mode for things she ingests, and not digests.) It goes on and on: fish that deposit their fertilized eggs inside of a mussel for safe harbor and development until the fish are born, and leave the borrowed bivalve womb. Since sex and mating drives a lot of behavior, it’s no surprise that it drives fish behavior as well. Male Atlantic mollies have a gonopodium (which looks and functions a lot like a penis) that they use to mate. The males also practice deception—they will show a false interest in a smaller female (which then attracts other males to the smaller female), and the largely endowed gonopodium male will then run off with the larger (and more attractive) female. (And, in an interesting twist, there are mollies that live in the Amazon that are (appropriately enough) all female. BUT, they can produce viable eggs only if they mate with male mollies… of a different species. They mate and generate eggs, but the eggs aren’t fertilized by the spermatic contribution of the other-species male. It’s a case of “immaculate deception.”) Equally amazing, some female fish take care of their young post-birth. Some go so far as to excrete a special kind of immunity-boosting mucus from their scales, which the little fry are encouraged to eat. Like mammalian mother’s-milk, the fish-mother’s mucus is early stage, specially adapted food for the infant fish. Overall, “What a Fish Knows” is a beautifully written paen to fishes, and a call for humanity to stop the killing of an entire category of sensing, perceiving, attentive animals. Fish are the only wild “bush meat” that we consume on a massive, industrial scale. Yes, there are farmed fish, but that has its own set of problems. Not only are we being cruel about the way we capture them, but we’ve destroyed many populations along the way. That orange roughy you had with a light cream sauce was probably 100 years old when caught. Since orange roughy are slow-growing and late to mature, this means they have very low resilience, making them extremely susceptible to overfishing. Likewise for sharks, cod, etc etc etc. Would we do anything differently if cows took 100 years to mature to edibility? But because the orange roughly lives in the deep sea at 1000 meters down, we don’t see this, and we don’t know what’s really going on. What’s worse, it’s become clear that some fishes have cultural knowledge that’s passed down between generations (primarily around good breeding places). It’s very possible that some kinds of fish are not bouncing back after fishing is halted because they’ve FORGOTTEN how to have a viable population. There’s a lot more going on with fish than you might have known. It’s enough to make you stop eating fish. I’m certainly decreasing the amount and kind that I eat.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    Interesting facts about fish: Do fish feel pain? It seems that they do. If you expose fish to a pain condition, such as exposure to vinegar, they cannot complete their task. However, if you give fish pain medication, they can complete the task, despite the vinegar exposure. Fish express anxiety over a variety of things (e.g. finding the correct shelter). Researchers observe various fish doing various tasks and identify the anxious fish, give the fish anxiety meds, and observe that they are less a Interesting facts about fish: Do fish feel pain? It seems that they do. If you expose fish to a pain condition, such as exposure to vinegar, they cannot complete their task. However, if you give fish pain medication, they can complete the task, despite the vinegar exposure. Fish express anxiety over a variety of things (e.g. finding the correct shelter). Researchers observe various fish doing various tasks and identify the anxious fish, give the fish anxiety meds, and observe that they are less anxious and can make better decisions - the decisions non anxious fish make. Large fish have spa days. They go to cleaner fish stations to get cleaned, mostly of parasites. They observe the cleaners to see who is an honest cleaner and who is a non honest cleaner (honest = little or no biting of the precious mucus that covers the large fish's skin/ dishonest = taking tasty bits of the mucus skin). Just as humans use Yelp or Google to rate businesses, cleaner fish seem to get reputations as honest or dishonest. Honest cleaner get more clients. When being cleaned, if the large fish senses danger, it will open its mouth and chomp down, trapping the small cleaner fish inside. After the danger passes, the large fish will open up and allow the cleaner fish to swim free. Some fish love to be petted, just as a dog enjoys it. The author thinks this is worth studying. Do they experience pleasure? He wants to find out.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christian D. Orr

    Not only are we learning from other scientific studies that birds are (and dinosaurs were) much more intelligent than longstanding paradigms had assumed for so many decades, this fascinating book shows that the same is true of fish as well; their cold, seemingly robotic and unfeeling automaton appearance notwithstanding, their actually sentient beings with intelligence and even personalities. The author offers his evidence with plenty of solid science, with detailed information backed by a witty Not only are we learning from other scientific studies that birds are (and dinosaurs were) much more intelligent than longstanding paradigms had assumed for so many decades, this fascinating book shows that the same is true of fish as well; their cold, seemingly robotic and unfeeling automaton appearance notwithstanding, their actually sentient beings with intelligence and even personalities. The author offers his evidence with plenty of solid science, with detailed information backed by a witty writing style. The author injects some bleeding-heart liberal politics at several points in the book (not just in the animal rights arena but also a totally irrelevant interjection at one point on gender identity politics), which brings my rating from 5 stars down to 4.....but at least, unlike many animal rights and environmentalist extremists, he doesn't advocate the total abolition of fish consumption; rather, he brings up some valid concerns about overfishing (i.e. excessive depletion of a precious, valuable resource) and about the need for more humane methods of killing fish intended for human consumption. RANDOM STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS (and noteworthy passages) --"One author, Alison Mood, has estimated, based on analysis of Food and Agriculture Organization fisheries capture statistics for the period 1999–2007, that the number of fishes killed each year by humans is between 1 and 2.7 trillion.*" Funny, most people don't talk about "killing" fish that they catch like they would talk about "killing" mammals and birds that they hunt. --"dizzying numbers like these tend to mask the fact that each fish is a unique individual, not just with a biology, but with a biography. Just as each sunfish, whale shark, manta ray, and leopard grouper has a distinctive pattern from which you can recognize individuals on the outside, each has a one-of-a-kind life on the inside, too. And therein lies the locus of change in human-fish relations. It is a fact of biology that every fish, like the proverbial grain of sand, is one of a kind. But unlike grains of sand, fishes are living beings. This is no trivial distinction. When we come to understand fishes as conscious individuals, we may cultivate a new relationship to them. In the immortal words of an unknown poet: 'Nothing has changed except my attitude—so everything has changed.'" Profound. "According to FishBase—the largest and most often consulted online database on fishes—33,249 species, in 564 families and 64 orders, had been described as of January 2016. That’s more than the combined total of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. When we refer to 'fish' we are referring to 60 percent of all the known species on Earth with backbones." Mind-blowing stats. --"Bony fishes, scientifically termed teleosts (from the Greek teleios = complete, and osteon = bone)," I thought they were termed Ostichthyians? --"The bony fishes are at least as evolutionarily distinct from the cartilaginous fishes as mammals are from birds. A tuna is actually more closely related to a human than to a shark, and the coelacanth—a 'living fossil' first discovered in 1937—sprouted closer to us than to a tuna on the tree of life. So there are at least six major vertebrate groups if one counts the cartilaginous fishes." Wow, thought-provoking, and dare I say (borderline) paradigm-shifting? --"In any event, brain size is only marginally meaningful in terms of cognitive advancement. As the author Sy Montgomery notes in an essay on octopus minds, it is well known in electronics that anything can be miniaturized. A small squid can learn mazes faster than dogs do, and a small goby fish can memorize in one trial the topography of a tide pool by swimming over it at high tide—a feat few if any humans could achieve." And to use a mechanical & technological analogy, look at microchips and microprocessors vs. older and bigger vacuum tubes. --"As far as we know there is only one way to achieve internal fertilization: sex with an intromittent organ. So it appears that fishes were the first to enjoy 'the fun kind' of sex. About this discovery and John Long, the Australian paleontologist who brought it to light, [David] Attenborough expressed ambivalence during a public lecture: 'This is the first known example of any vertebrate copulating in the history of life … and he names it after me.'" Ha! --"fishes are not easily fathomed." Pun intended? "A seven-month survey using echo soundings of the mesopelagic zone (between 100 and 1,000 meters—330 to 3,300 feet—below the ocean surface), published in early 2014, concluded that there are between ten and thirty times more fishes living there than was previously thought." Fascinating revelation. --"In exchange for the male being the ultimate couch potato, the female never has to wonder where her mate is on a Saturday evening." Haha, amusing metaphors/analogies. --"Frilled sharks carry their babies for over three years, the longest known pregnancy in nature. I sure hope they don’t get morning sickness." Haha, this author sure is witty. --"Speaking of superlatives, and names, surely one of the longest belongs to Hawaii’s state fish, the rectangular triggerfish, known by the locals as humuhumunukunukuapua’a (translation: the fish that sews with a needle and grunts like a pig). Perhaps the award for least flattering name should go to an anglerfish dubbed the hairy-jawed sack-mouth, and for most preposterous to the sarcastic fringehead. For the title of crudest, I nominate a small coastal dweller, the slippery dick (Halichoeres bivittatus)." A literal limp wet fish, the latter species? Nyuk nyuk? --"In March 2015, scientists described the first truly endothermic fish, the opah, which maintains its body temperature at about 9 degrees Fahrenheit above the cold waters it swims in at depths of several hundred feet," --"There isn’t anything musical about the sounds that herrings make, but their innovative method might warrant a fish Grammy Award. One paper describes the first example of what might loosely be termed flatulent communication. Both Pacific and Atlantic herrings break wind by releasing gas bubbles from the anal duct region, producing distinctive bursts of pulses, or what the research team playfully named Fast Repetitive Ticks (FRTs). A bout of FRTs can last up to seven seconds. Try that at home! The gas probably originates in the gut or the swim bladder. It isn’t clear how these sounds function in herring society, but since per capita rates of sound production are higher in denser schools of herrings, a social function is suspected. So far there is no evidence that herrings ever beg your pardon." Heh heh, I gotta share that one with Dave Writer! --"Male deep-sea anglerfishes illustrate the interplay of senses. **They have the largest nostrils relative to head size of any animal on Earth**, according to Ted Pietsch, the world’s go-to guy on anglerfishes." [emphasis added] --"Consider also that the elephantfishes have the largest brain cerebellum of any fish, and that their brain-to-body-weight ratio—a highly touted marker of intelligence—is about the same as ours." --"perceptions of fishes, I received unsolicited accounts from eight of a thousand random respondents who described behavior like that of the Midas cichlid we just met. These fishes would allow their humans to pet, touch, hold, and stroke them." --"'To suggest that fishes cannot feel pain because they don’t have sufficient neuroanatomy is like arguing that balloons cannot fly because they don’t have wings.' Or that humans cannot swim because they don’t have fins." --"Tool use was long believed unique to humans, and it is only in the last decade that scientists have begun to appreciate the behavior beyond mammals and birds." --"Aquariums illustrate what science demonstrates: fishes have social lives." --"Creatures like Grandma and The Whisperer defy the common prejudice that sharks are terrorists and bony fishes primitive and dull. Natural selection acts on variation across individuals, and for complex creatures with minds and social lives, personality is an expression of that variation. You don’t have to have fur or feathers to have personality; scales and fins will suffice." --"Roving coral groupers and their close relative leopard coral groupers use a “headstand” signal to indicate the location of hidden prey to cooperative hunting partners of several types: giant moray eels, humphead wrasses, **and big blue octopuses**." **emphasis added** Wow, even cooperating with non-fish, non-vertebrate species, i.e. cephalopods! --"The clever science writer Ed Yong summed it all up with a piece titled 'When Your Prey’s in a Hole and You Don’t Have a Pole, Use a Moray.'" Haha, good one. --"Hans and Simone Fricke, who studied this strict mating system, described the low-ranking males as being, in essence, psychophysiologically castrated." [regarding clownfishes] Egad! --p. 183: Oh, good Gawd, not the human gender reassignment/gender identity debate! Not germane to the book topic at all! Ugh, the author's lost me now!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicola M.

    This book could have been titled "Fish Are Awesome" and it would still be an accurate title. Not only are there over 33,000 species of fish, humans have only begun to scratch the surface of what fishes are truly capable of. Fishes (I'm with the author that referring, "...to a trillion fish by the singular term lumps them together like rows of corn") are indeed awesome: from complex social structures and behaviours to organized hunting, feeding and mating rituals, fishes remain perhaps the most m This book could have been titled "Fish Are Awesome" and it would still be an accurate title. Not only are there over 33,000 species of fish, humans have only begun to scratch the surface of what fishes are truly capable of. Fishes (I'm with the author that referring, "...to a trillion fish by the singular term lumps them together like rows of corn") are indeed awesome: from complex social structures and behaviours to organized hunting, feeding and mating rituals, fishes remain perhaps the most misunderstood beings in the animal kingdom. This book is not just a fascinating look into "the inner lives of our underwater cousins", it is incredibly well-researched and lovingly written; the author Jonathan Balcombe clearly respects fishes and their lives. The book is written with humour, interspersed with personal anecdotes that he admits "...carry little credibility with scientists, but they provide insight into what animals may be capable of that science has yet to explore." As a vegan reader, I also appreciate that the author addresses the issue of some studies that have been conducted on fishes that have been inhumane, cruel, and like so many animal experiments, unnecessary, many of which could be avoided if humans were simply more willing to accept that animals ARE capable of suffering and to just leave them the hell alone in the first place. But I digress. From elaborate nest-building to the use of tools to some pretty unique sex acts, I certainly have a new respect for fishes and feel honoured to have gotten to understand them a little better. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in animal behaviour and especially to those who "just eat fish." A timely and fascinating book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    William

    This was delightful. Jonathan Balcombe tackles the subject of the inner lives of fish with an exceptional balance of science, argument, and anecdote. His prose never loses the deep compassion he has for fish but it doesn't become pedantic or pollyannish. He treats fish with respect and joy and wonder. I think I've learned a great deal from reading this book. I'd recommend it to anybody who is curious about, well, fish! They'll blow you away. I swear they will. This was delightful. Jonathan Balcombe tackles the subject of the inner lives of fish with an exceptional balance of science, argument, and anecdote. His prose never loses the deep compassion he has for fish but it doesn't become pedantic or pollyannish. He treats fish with respect and joy and wonder. I think I've learned a great deal from reading this book. I'd recommend it to anybody who is curious about, well, fish! They'll blow you away. I swear they will.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    Admirable. Balcombe is a (former?) ethologist, working (in some capacity) for the Humane Society. In this book, he reviews what's known about fish thinking and feeling, the research that undergirds this knowledge, and speculates on further lines of study based on anecdotes he has collected. The book is organized around the (Romantic German biologist) Jakob von Uexküll's idea of Umwelt: the notion that an organism's understanding of the environment is shaped by its senses. Already, this approach pu Admirable. Balcombe is a (former?) ethologist, working (in some capacity) for the Humane Society. In this book, he reviews what's known about fish thinking and feeling, the research that undergirds this knowledge, and speculates on further lines of study based on anecdotes he has collected. The book is organized around the (Romantic German biologist) Jakob von Uexküll's idea of Umwelt: the notion that an organism's understanding of the environment is shaped by its senses. Already, this approach puts the book above Jennifer Ackerman's similar book on bird intelligence. Balcombe is sensitive to the idea that fish are different than humans, and so may have their own forms of intelligence. He never mentions the name, but he's clearly thinking of Thomas Nagel's classic philosophical paper ""What is it like to be a bat?" I learned a lot from the book. Not about fish biology, which is presented here in a very basic way, but about fish behavior and signs of intelligence. Balcombe makes his case--though, admittedly, I'm relatively sympathetic to it in the first place. I do not think that he advances the general case for animal consciousness beyond what Donald Griffin did lo those many years ago, but he did so in very specific ways. In going over the material, Balcombe is careful to not get too far over his skies--and when he does, he's good at labeling those parts that are speculation or based on anecdote (0r in which he is criticizing the limitations of some study). True enough he spends a lot of time on a few anecdotes, which may give them undue weight, but it seems to be in the service of encouraging further research, which seems fair, given the general bias against the notion that fish have any kind of intelligence. (A bias he reasonable blames on their relatively fixed facial features, so different than expressive humans.) For the most part, Balcombe is a graceful stylist, though his penchant for joking does become tiresome. And his structural organization is uninspired. The book is divided thematically, first by senses, later by other ethological topics: emotions, thought, social behavior, reproduction. The chapters themselves, though, have no real drive to them; while he transitions from topic to topic without much problem, the movement can sometimes feel like a forced march. Part of the gracefulness of his prose is the way that he tucks his larger argument into each section, leaving hints--that he then never completely ties together, rather allowing the reader to draw the conclusion that Balcombe wants: leading the reader to water, thirsty, without saying what must be done. It's clear that Balcombe wants the reader to question whether eating fish is a reasonable choice--not because of the way fish have been over-harvested, or the oceans turned into giant toilet bowls, but because fish are sentient, feeling, thoughtful creatures with a right to exist on the planet. And while I do not plan on stopping eating fish altogether--I don't much, at any rate, because of over-harvesting and pollution--I will stop and give respect to the fish whose life has been cut short to supply my own. I don't think that's everything Balcombe was after, but he did move me along.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    In the history of persuasion no one has ever changed their mind while being talked at. Preaching is the quickest way to lose an unconverted audience. The best way to change someone's mind is to make them curious. Ask them questions and then calmly lay out your interesting facts. Then after you've let the evidence speak for itself you ask if the status quo should change. Does what you thought still seem true? Sadly this book did the opposite. It started fast and hard condemning people's unfeeling In the history of persuasion no one has ever changed their mind while being talked at. Preaching is the quickest way to lose an unconverted audience. The best way to change someone's mind is to make them curious. Ask them questions and then calmly lay out your interesting facts. Then after you've let the evidence speak for itself you ask if the status quo should change. Does what you thought still seem true? Sadly this book did the opposite. It started fast and hard condemning people's unfeeling, speciesist view of these poor creatures. Espousing cruelties and the author's own, lone kind heart. While I agreed with him on the folly of people classing fish as somehow less alive or more easily eaten than say cows, it is not just fish or the mamailian bias that I think of as strange. Life is life. Trees have memoirs, loyalties and language. We are land fish that can only survive outside the ocean by carrying the sea inside our bodies. These are facts. They awaken compassion and understanding, but they do so on their own with my telling you what you should feel. If this book had just contained interesting, relatable facts about our fellow fish I would have enjoyed the whole thing. Alas, it did not, it was a sermon of why humans are unfeeling and biased. Yes, yes, I know that, I did not pick up this book to hear about people, I picked it up to learn about fish.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sonia Faruqi

    When it comes to fish, what is fact and what is myth? If you’ve ever wondered about life in the underwater world, this book will teach you a lot, from fascinating facts like tapetum lucidum—the layer of the retina that enables marine creatures to see at night and is also responsible for creating the eyeshine in the eyes of cats and dogs—to the complexity of fish feeling. There are more species of fish than of all other vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians—combined, yet they’re a When it comes to fish, what is fact and what is myth? If you’ve ever wondered about life in the underwater world, this book will teach you a lot, from fascinating facts like tapetum lucidum—the layer of the retina that enables marine creatures to see at night and is also responsible for creating the eyeshine in the eyes of cats and dogs—to the complexity of fish feeling. There are more species of fish than of all other vertebrates—mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians—combined, yet they’re a mystery to us. Not after reading this book. Jonathan Balcombe speaks about fishes intelligently, eloquently, and passionately. The book is a trove of information and insight.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Scheid

    I will never look at a fish the same way again. They are sentient beings with problem solving skills. Some can recognize their humans and like to be petted. One species of fish float near the top of the water at high tide and memorize the map of the sea floor so they know where to hide when the tide is low. This book is full of fascinating facts but also gives examples of the cruelty we inflict on them. It ends with a glimmer of hope for a better future. The writing just flows. (No pun intended)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Neus

    This book is a jewel of the sea in all senses. It is very well researched and objective, and at the same time, it is written with sensitivity. Although I am a marine scientist, I have learned new things along the way and my curiosity, empathy, and fascination with fish has increased even more. I recommend it to everyone who wants to learn more or discover surprising facts about fish and ourselves.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Keith Akers

    This excellent book about fish sentience is much better than we have any right to expect based on its subject matter. Fish seem hopelessly alien, a topic that Balcombe addresses early on. Without needlessly sexing up the topic, Jonathan Balcombe gives us an entertaining, organized, and scientific exposition of what it is that fishes know. As it turns out, this is quite a bit. Fish have language, can feel pain (this should be obvious, but now you know), like to play, are affectionate, and can use This excellent book about fish sentience is much better than we have any right to expect based on its subject matter. Fish seem hopelessly alien, a topic that Balcombe addresses early on. Without needlessly sexing up the topic, Jonathan Balcombe gives us an entertaining, organized, and scientific exposition of what it is that fishes know. As it turns out, this is quite a bit. Fish have language, can feel pain (this should be obvious, but now you know), like to play, are affectionate, and can use tools. Balcombe gives anecdotes and chooses pictures that illustrate what he is talking about that are well chosen. I loved the picture of a woman staring at her pet pufferfish in a long “gazing session.” This book should inspire sympathy for fish and give anyone who has been fishing some second thoughts about this activity. Especially intriguing is the discussion of fish sexuality; some fish can, as the situation demands, switch sexes or even be both at once, and fertilize themselves. But this is not a heavy-handed plea for animal kindness by any means. Quite the contrary, it is so quiet that any feelings of sympathy the reader has for animals must be coming from within.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jami

    I enjoyed this book about fish; it definitely changed my perspective on fish. I agree 100% with what the author says about humans not realizing fish are sentient beings because fish are unable to change their expressions. I never thought about it before, but it is true; we tend to see those who make/have cute faces as lovable and loving. The material was presented in an easy to understand format, and there really weren't any points where he lost my interest. Some parts were humorous; for instanc I enjoyed this book about fish; it definitely changed my perspective on fish. I agree 100% with what the author says about humans not realizing fish are sentient beings because fish are unable to change their expressions. I never thought about it before, but it is true; we tend to see those who make/have cute faces as lovable and loving. The material was presented in an easy to understand format, and there really weren't any points where he lost my interest. Some parts were humorous; for instance, who expected to find a section about whether size matters to fish (and yes, he is referring to THAT!!) in this type of book. THe book was well narrated, I learned interesting things about fish, and it caused me to rethink about my persepctive on fish. The part about how fish are killed/farmed was eye opening, and although difficult to read, it is important to know. Overall, I found this informative and interesting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru Tudorica

    Our water-dwelling cousins are actually surprisingly sentient, while absolutely unsustainable commercial practices massively deplete the aquatic ecosystems. 40% of the fishing represents bycatch, which is simply thrown away (dead, of course). Fish tend to accumulate various pollutants, therefore frequent consumption is mostly detrimental to human health. The farmed fish usually eats wild fish (since we apparently have a taste for carnivorous fish) and they are kept in conditions so bad that a 10 Our water-dwelling cousins are actually surprisingly sentient, while absolutely unsustainable commercial practices massively deplete the aquatic ecosystems. 40% of the fishing represents bycatch, which is simply thrown away (dead, of course). Fish tend to accumulate various pollutants, therefore frequent consumption is mostly detrimental to human health. The farmed fish usually eats wild fish (since we apparently have a taste for carnivorous fish) and they are kept in conditions so bad that a 10%-30% death rate is considered acceptable, while various diseases and parasites run unchecked through the overcrowded populations.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    A really interesting look into the inner lives and weird behaviors of fish. If you’re a fish enthusiast, the first bit might be a bit tedious for you, but it’s worth it for all the cool facts later on. The author’s passion oozes when he talks about fish in general, and he does a good job of balancing actual scientific data with stories of what fish do without giving those anecdotes equal weight or discrediting them on the other hand. Quite enjoyable

  29. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    This book explores the sentience of fish. A very interesting read that made me aware of lots of fish behavior that I knew nothing about. I did find the book to be a bit preachy but regardless it made me think about fish in a more empathetic light than I did previously so it did do its job!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Raz

    This is a very engaging book written about what could be a very dry (ha!) subject. The everyday language and the author's obvious passion for his subject keeps it from being an infodump, and I can definitely say I have a newfound appreciation for marine life after finishing this book. He also discusses the ecological impact of fishing industries without being super preachy about it, and it's made me reconsider being blase about eating seafood! This is a very engaging book written about what could be a very dry (ha!) subject. The everyday language and the author's obvious passion for his subject keeps it from being an infodump, and I can definitely say I have a newfound appreciation for marine life after finishing this book. He also discusses the ecological impact of fishing industries without being super preachy about it, and it's made me reconsider being blase about eating seafood!

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