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Do Fish Feel Pain? Hardcover – Apr 25 2010
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"Braithwaite is at her best when conveying the sophistication of fish behavior. She does an admirable job of convincing readers that fish are smart." -- The Quarterly Review of Biology
About the Author
Professor Victoria Braithwaite is Chair in Fisheries and Biology, School of Forest Resources, Pennsylvania State University. Her research investigates the evolution of animal cognition, focusing on fish learning, perception, and memory. She sits on the UK Government Animal Procedures Committee, has published numerous research articles, and written for the broadsheet media including the LA Times. In 2006 Professor Braithwaite was awarded the Fisheries Society of the British Isles Medal.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Considering the general philosophical issues around animal welfare as well as the scientific questions of what fish can experience, the book scrupulously fails to find a bogeyman or call for any knee-jerk instant solutions. Nonetheless, it raises some hard issues, and in a world where we're ready to pay more for free-range poultry, it may be timely to be hearing some unpalatable facts about many of the standard commercial fishing practices used to produce the fish on our plates.
Alongside the exploration of the book's main themes comes plenty of fascinating biology, including the extraordinary and rather delightful story of the grouper and the eel, which I've had to repeat to everyone since reading it. The author is a fish biologist, and the book tells a perhaps unintended third story, that of the scientific process, the honest search for the right question, and then the ingenuity and elegance applied to finding an answer. When the predominant exposure to science is about dramatic breakthroughs or headline-grabbing controversy, this readable, thoughtful and informative book is a tribute to the people quietly getting on with it, trying to find out how things really work. I'm grateful one of them has found the time to share the process, as well as raising some very important issues about our understanding of and interactions with these fascinating and diverse animals.
This is science at its best - clear, methodical, and rational. I'd recommend it highly to students, not just as a study in fish biology, but also as an example of how to present an emotive argument without letting emotion cloud the issue.
Professor Braithwaite is an expert in this field. She, and fellow researchers, began by asking whether fish have the necessary receptors and nerve fibres to detect painful events. Next they wanted to determine whether a potentially painful stimulus triggered activity in the nervous system. If they were able to find positive answers to those two questions, the final test was to find out how the experience of a potentially painful event affected the behaviour of fish and the decisions that they made. The upshot is that Braithwaite did find the pain receptors and fish responded to the pain felt. This is backed up a lot of recent research, some of with is quoted in the book.
She wrote in the Preface to this 2010 book, "My goal in writing this book has been to provide the background to promote informed discussion... I examine what we know so far about pain in fish, and whether it is meaningful to discuss fish welfare at all. After reading the book, I hope you will be in a position to make up your own mind... It draws us toward difficult, grey areas---if fish feel pain, then what about octopus, squid and lobsters---where do we draw the line?" Later she asks, "Would we really want to accord animal welfare consideration to earthworms?" (Pg. 120)
The questions she and her colleagues attempted to address are, "do fish have the necessary receptors and nerve fibres to detect painful events? ... (whether) a potentially painful stimulus triggered activity in the nervous system... (and) how the experience of a potentially painful event affected the behaviour of fish and the decisions that they made." (Pg. 7) She later states that "To be convinced an animal experiences pain, we had to show that a complex behaviour is affected." (Pg. 66)
While noting that the absence of a neocortex in a fish brain is important, she argues that "various brain imaging techniqes have revealed that these areas (i.e., pain) lie beneath the neocortex." (Pg. 12) She asks, "Certainly the lack of a neocortex will prevent fish from experiencing things we might, but can we really conclude that fish feel nothing?" (Pg. 97)
She concludes that fish "have the mental capacity to feel pain. I suspect that what they experience will be different and simpler than the experience we associate with pain and suffering, but I see no reason to deny them these abilities, and quite a bit which argues that they will suffer from noxious stimuli." (Pg. 112)
This is certainly the most extensive examination of this question in a book, and will be interesting reading for persons on all sides of this debate.
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