Friday, August 10, 2007

Fish behavior and good ole boys

I read an article that was complaining about PETA's stance on fishing. I'm not going to go into my opinion of PETA, fishing itself or aquaculture, because it isn't relevant. The author annoyed me, however, by acting like an idiot.
PETA contends that fish “are intelligent animals who observe, learn, use tools, and form sophisticated social structures” and “talk to each other with squeaks, squeals...Some fish even woo their potential partners by singing to them!” They also contend that “Some fish tend well-kept gardens, build nests, and collect rocks for building hiding places where they can rest.”

I can imagine this guy chortling at the ridiculousness of fish behaving in these ways, as if PETA made them up out of whole cloth. "Contends"? Well, ol' boy, I'd like to point out that all of these behaviors are well-documented by aquatic biologists.

Anyone who's kept cichlids in aquariums can attest to their masonry skills, which for some fish borders on an obsession. Many other fish move rocks for nesting and shelter as well. This is so widespread and well-documented that I don't need to provide details.

Tool use in fish IS fairly simple, because they do not have fancy limbs like we do, but it happens, mostly consisting of using rocks to crush hard-shelled prey and spitting water (water is the tool). Archerfish (Toxotes jaculator) spit water onto insects that hang out above the water, knocking them down so they can be snarfed. Puffers and other fish spit as well, usually spitting water onto the substrate to reveal prey hidden just below the sand; this behavior frequently manifests in captivity as they spit to get a keeper's attention when begging for food.

The well-tended gardens of Garibaldi, the largest damselfish species, are cultivated for the purpose of getting babes. Male Garibaldi cultivate a patch of algae on a rock; the females come along to inspect the gardens and, on the basis of who's the best available gardener, choose their mate. Herbivores such as surgeonfishes and damsels will tend and protect a patch of algae.

Sound production in fish
is a BIG field of study these days; cod, haddock, toadfish, damsels, cichlids, and many, many other species use sound for a variety of communication purposes. Studying these sounds may help fisheries scientists figure out better ways to protect collapsing fisheries, especially since they are so often associated with mating behaviors.

Finally, the sophisticated social structures are very real. One of my favorites to talk about is the cichlid species that has effeminate males that pretend to be girls for the purposes of getting some sperm into the egg pile while a masculine male is mating with a female. Trannsexual sperm-sneaking fish--does it get any weirder than that? (Yes, it probably does, actually!)

So, if this guy wants to make the point that PETA is full of crap, he should maybe not be mocking information that is actually true. Maybe he just thinks a fish is a mindless creature that does nothing but swim, eat, and squirt out gametes, but as far as I can tell, he's projecting a bit there.

And this:
If you are a fisherman and see the whole thing as a crackpot scheme, don't laugh. Our side doesn't have any grassroots support like this and regulations can be swayed these days by the correct voter turn-out for ballot initiatives.

Yes, absolutely, there are no such organizations as Trout Unlimited, Rod & Gun Club, Bassmasters, or the other 140+ organizations that unite anglers socially and politically. Nope. Doesn't exist. And state governments do absolutely nothing to support the recreational fishing industry.

Get real.

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