Monday, 20 October 2014

Forget the Pseudoscience : All Fish Feel Pain


On Friday LiveScience.com published one of my articles, which detailed the situation in which the fisheries industry has taken control, not only of the planet's wild fish, but of how they are considered by the public as well.
My article describes a political situation which is being reported on more and more on the Internet—too much power is in the hands of the corporations. In this case, it is the fishing industry and its interests that have managed to maintain such control.
Among others, I used the article by David Shiffman and Neil Hammerschlag, that appeared recently in “Fisheries” as an example. In an effort to give the ring of scientific authority to shark fishing, it recommends “fighting” sharks through catch and release fishing, as a good way for Florida to earn money. But both cock fighting and dog fighting are illegal in Florida, so how can a student scientist be promoting the “fighting” of sharks?
It has been shown by a variety of scientific researchers who are NOT involved with fisheries, that sharks and fish do feel pain and suffer, and that shark fishing is harmful to them. The paper was a good example of how these animals are usually portrayed through the eyes of those who want to kill them, or who find it fun and exciting to brutalize them. As one who chose the route of actually observing these animals underwater in an effort to learn about them, I naturally spoke out.
Shiffman complained because his work was receiving criticism, though one wonders why he published it, if he did not want it read and discussed. By pressuring LiveScience, he managed to have the mention of his paper removed from my article, in a tirade of heated outrage in which he did not provide one bit of evidence in support of his position.
One can only hope that he will remove his fishy article from the literature as well, and analyze his data again. As long as it is online, anyone can look at it and judge for themselves if more shark fishing, or more shark diving, should have been the logical conclusion given the data. Do facts matter to fishermen? See for yourself. 
As a result of my article being thus censored through pressuring from the fishing lobby, here is the full, uncensored article as it originally appeared on Live Science:

Forget the Pseudoscience : All Fish Feel Pain

Researchers at Yale Law School made headlines recently, when they suggested that people often fail to question their political beliefs in the face of scientific discoveries that contradict them. Their study showed how people reason selectively, and interpret data in such a way that it conforms with their political vantage point.
This phenomenon is evident in the pseudoscientific world of fisheries, a multi-billion dollar power that has taken control of both the planet's wild fish populations, and how these animals are viewed by the public. The result seems to be that irregardless of available facts, their conclusions are always in favor of fishermen, not fish.

Though rigorous scientific research has established beyond all doubt that the pain system in fish is virtually identical to that of mammals (Sneddon 2002), the fishingindustry has maintained that fish are too simple-minded to feel pain (Rose 2002, 2012). As a result, most people seem to believe the old fishermen's tale that no matter how you brutalize fish and sharks, they won't suffer, and their abuse continues with almost no public outcry nor protest.

Yet no evidence has ever been produced to support the idea that an animal could live successfully, and survive, without the ability to feel pain, which is an important warning sensation. It would result in inappropriate behaviour, and the fish would go straight into evolution’s garbage can. Only a small percentage of fish who come into the world live to adulthood, and any weakness would doom them.

Neither do observations of fish behavior support the idea. Fish appear cautious and careful, and display cognitive behaviour in their efforts to eat food, such as sea urchins, that could sting them. Indeed, the evolution of such animals, as well as a host of other oceanic stingers, seems to have depended on the ability of fish to feel pain.

The subjective idea was dropped into the literature by the fisheries lobby, with no study done to support it, even though it failed to fit in with the facts already established scientifically, and observable to anyone.

The study of pain in fish


Since animals cannot tell us how they feel, scientists have searched indirectly for evidence about their subjective experiences, in the studies of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and behavior. Researchers have developed strict criteria, all of which need to be met, before they can conclude that an animal can feel pain.

First, there must be nociceptors — sensory neurons that respond to tissue damage by sending nerve signals to the spinal cord and brain. There must be neural pathways from the nociceptors to higher brain regions, and the signal from the nociceptor must be processed in the higher brain, not in the reflex centers in the hindbrain or spinal cord.

There must be opioid receptors within the nervous system, and opioid substances produced internally. Painkilling drugs should relieve the symptoms of pain that the animal displays, and the animal should be able to learn to avoid a painful stimulus. This should be so important to the animal that it avoids the threat of pain right away. The painful event should strongly interfere with normal behavior — it should not be an instantaneous withdrawal response, but long-term distress.

Fish meet all of these criteria, as has been shown in a wide variety of experiments. (Sneddon et al 2003, Reilly et al 2008). Their nociceptors are nearly identical to those found in mammals and humans, and the nociceptors are connected to the brain through neurons. There are also connections between the different structures of the brain, including those that are considered crucial to the experience of pain. The whole brain of the fish is active during painful events.

In addition to neural activity, certain genes that are crucial to the experience of pain in humans are also found in fish, and they are active throughout the fish's brain during painful events (Reilly et al 2009). This activity of the brain at both the molecular and thephysiological level, indicates that these are not reflex reactions. If they were, such activity would not be seen in the higher brain. (Dunlop R et al 2005)

Fish have displayed a variety of adverse changes in their behavior after the infliction of pain, such as an extreme increase in their ventilation (respiratory) rate, rubbing damaged body parts on the surrounding environment, rocking on their pectoral fins, trying to stay upright, and no longer feeding. These, and other symptoms of distress,are relieved by the administration of morphine, which completes the circle and identifies pain as the cause of the change in behavior. (Sneddon 2003)

Like other animals tested in laboratory settings, fish have been shown to self-administer painkillers if they can, even if that means going into a location that they do not like, to bathe in water that medicates them. This is another clue that the fish was suffering, and found relief in the undesirable location.

Fish swiftly learn to avoid painful events, which researchers think indicates that they are conscious — they experience the pain so severely that they are strongly motivated to avoid feeling it again, even after just one exposure. (Millsopp and Laming 2008)

Though humans can override pain at times in certain heightened mental states, and particularly when in danger, it seems that fish cannot do so. Studies have shown that after being hurt, fish become far less alert to danger, as if their pain is too overwhelming for them to ignore it, even to escape a predator. It is thought that due to their simpler neural design and mental states, fish lack the ability to think about their pain, and put it in perspective as humans can. Pain for them seems always to be an intense experience, which suggests that they may actually feel pain more intensely than humans.

When researcher Dr. Rebecca Dunlop of Queensland University, discovered that fish learn to avoid painful experiences, she wrote, "Pain avoidance in fish doesn't seem to be a reflex response, but rather one that is learned, remembered and is changed according to different circumstances. Therefore, if fish can perceive pain, then angling [fishing] cannot continue to be considered a noncruel sport."

The best way to relieve pain in fish during surgery has been meticulously researched. Pain relief is systematically used by veterinarians who perform surgery on fish, and the pain system in fish is considered to be the same as that in birds and mammals. Given that they are conscious, and may suffer on an emotional level, fish welfare emerges as an important issue. (Chandroo et al 2004)

Yet while amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals have been protected from cruel treatment, fish and sharks have not, thanks to the domination of those who profit from killing them.

Pro-Shark-fishing Scientists


The latest assault on sharks comes in the form of a pro-shark-fishing paper which was recently published in the journal “Fisheries” by David Shiffman and Neil Hammerschlag. It was paid for by the fishing industry, and recommends that Florida profit from the brutalization of sharks through repeated fishing and release.

The authors begin by citing French Polynesia as having set a precedent by valuing its sharks, (Clua et al 2011) but omit the point that French Polynesia's sharks are valuable because their population is protected from fishing and is relatively healthy. The country is the biggest shark sanctuary in the world, where the people never wanted their sharks either fished nor disturbed, and divers pay to see large congregations of sharks in an unmolested community.

There is no comparison with the shark-hate culture of Florida where sharks are under fishing pressure, have been fished out of large areas, and shark diving is not favoured. To see sharks, Florida's divers are obliged to go to the Bahamas.

The evidence of the success of diving enterprises in a place where sharks are protected from fishing, points to the conclusion that shark diving should replace shark fishing in Florida, and the beleaguered animals should be left in peace.

Yet the authors state :

“...in French Polynesia, a single sicklefin lemon shark (Negaprion acutidens) can be worth over $2 million in its lifetime. . . Recent conservation advocacy, termed here “ecotourism conservation,” has used the economic premise that many species of sharks can be worth more to local economies alive than dead. . .”

For one shark to earn 2 million dollars for Florida, it would have to be fished 4000 times—2,000,000 dollars divided by 500 dollars, which is an average price charged by shark fishing charters to go out and catch a shark. Yet the authors do not address the possible effects on the lives and biology of sharks, as a result of being repeatedly “fought” nearly to death, at this intensity, for the amusement of certain elements in society.

Another problem emerges on a closer examination of the fisheries data presented in the paper itself. The blacktip shark is shown to be the most frequent species caught, and its survival rate from catch and release fishing is one of the lowest of all species shown. The authors state : “Blacktip Sharks and Great Hammerheads showed high physiological disruption and low survival following release.”

Yet, they also state many times that sharks are released “unharmed.” This contradiction with their own data is ignored. They show no good evidence that catch and release fishing is “harmless” and ignore non-fishing scientific papers that present evidence to the contrary.

For example, a scientific paper published by Dr. Carley Bansemer and Professor Mike Bennett, of the University of Queensland in Australia, states that interactions with fishing gear resulted in “debilitating disease, morbidity, and death.”

The View Underwater


When fishing slaughter began among the sharks I had been studying, (Porcher 2005) the entire community fled, and it never reformed as it had been. Those who had escaped being landed, first appeared swimming unsteadily, and more weakly than sharks I had observed within 24 hours of death from natural causes. They displayed the same symptoms of pain I had seen in birds and mammals as a wildlife rehabilitator. They were less alert, less responsive, and they swam slowly, erratically, and often as if they were off-balance. The recovery of their normal swimming pattern when they lived, took up to two weeks.

Large hooks remained stabbed into their mouths and often into the jaw itself, where they interfered with the sharks' ability to eat. Some lost weight and died in the next months. The hooks took weeks, and in some cases months, to rust out. Sharks appeared during this time trailing lengths of fishing line that had become covered with algae to a thickness of several centimetres. Some continually jerked their heads away from the drag as if the heavy weight pulling on the hook in them was a steady source of discomfort. Juveniles appeared exhausted by it and disappeared before losing the hooks.

Sharks are not trout. They are large animals that have to swim continously forward just to keep an adequate supply of oxygen moving over their gills, and their strong horizontal undulations are like a heartbeat, a powerful automatic motion they cannot stop. Their desperate efforts to escape death while pulling with so much force against a big shark hook piercing their faces or internal organs, can cause serious internal and facial injuries. And as any wildlife rehabilitator soon learns through experience, serious injuries to wild animals are usually fatal without the benefit of treatment and supportive care.

Fishing kills


One of the most famous American shark-fishing charter boat captains, Frank Mundus, was quoted by Russell Drumm in his book “In the Slick of the Cricket” as saying:

"Feeling good about tagging and releasing sharks was folly. The cheaper hooks bought by the weekend warriors were more often than not swallowed by the sharks which then fought their final battle gut-hooked. After being released, most sank to the bottom, dead. Maybe two out of twelve are hooked in the mouth. Add it up along the coast."

Much evidence that shark fishing is harmful to sharks, was ignored by the authors in their effort to give the ring of scientific authority to the brutalization of sharks for profit. But though their conclusions may be politically welcome, they are not biologically justified, and fall into the category of pseudoscience as defined as : a set of beliefs which is presented as scientific, but lacks supporting evidence or plausibility.

If you try to profit from cock fighting or dog fighting in the state of Florida, you are guilty of a felony, and now that it has been established that fish suffer as much as dogs and birds, there is no difference in terms of animal suffering among these blood sports.

But with tagging methods as the favoured means of gaining data on living sharks, their true natural behaviour remains obscure to many researchers. Their very approach to sharks through fishing and fisheries denies an appreciation of the real animals pursuing complex lives in their natural environment.

Not only is there is a deep cultural bias against sharks, but thanks to fisheries and the media, it is not even recognized. In the case of spiders and snakes, to take another example, everyone knows that they are disfavoured. But not in the case of sharks. Most people, including those who should know better, seem to continue to believe that the way sharks are portrayed by fisheries and in the media, is the way they truly are.

It is important that people begin to appreciate the true qualities of these unusual and important animals, in order to denounce this cultural situation, and insist that they be treated humanely in the interests of continuing to build a moral society.

References 

Bansemer, C. S., and Bennett, M. B. (2010). Retained fishing gear and associated injuries in the east Australian grey nurse sharks (Carcharias taurus): implications for population recovery. Marine and Freshwater Research61, 97–103.
Clua, E., Buray, N., Legendre, P., Mourier, J., and Planes, S. (2011). Business partner or simple catch? The economic value of the sicklefin lemon shark in French Polynesia. Marine and Freshwater Research 62, 764–770.
Kahan, Dan M. and Peters, Ellen and Dawson, Erica Cantrell and Slovic, Paul, Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government (September 3, 2013). Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307.
Rose, J.D. (2002) The neurobehavioral nature of fishes and the question of awareness and pain. Reviews in Fisheries Science 10, 1–38.
Rose, J.D, Arlinghaus, R., Cooke, S.J., Diggles,B.K., Sawynok, W., Stevens, E.D and Wynne C.D.L. (2012) Can fish really feel pain? Fish and Fisheries, in press. DOI: 10.1111/faf.12010
Shiffman, D., Hammerschlagg N., Fisheries • Vol 39 No 9• September 2014
Sneddon, L.U. (2003b) The evidence for pain in fish. Use of morphine as an anaesthetic. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 83, 153–162.
Weber EP, Weisse C, Schwars T, Innis C, Klide AM Anesthesia, diagnostic imaging, and surgery of fish, Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2009 Feb;31(2): E11.

Every point I made above is supported by rigorous scientific research--I have included some of the most prominent, but it is easy to find more once one begins to research the subject in the literature. Countless studies on fish pain and their welfare have been done.





Friday, 22 August 2014

Shark Week 2014

Once again, Discovery Channel has followed its tried and true formula of using sharks to generate millions of dollars, by presenting them as monsters just waiting to get their teeth into the viewers. 

Discovery's angle seems to hinge on the fear people have of the unknown, and especially the unknown in the water where they swim. Shark Week has been so good at tweaking and magnifying this fear, that generations of viewers who grew up watching the show are afraid to go in the water.

Yet, all over the world wild sharks are welcome visitors during shark dives. How is this possible, without the divers being torn apart?

I asked divers to describe what they felt on finding themselves deep in the sea, surrounded by sharks, and they used similar words to describe their feelings. In every case, they spoke of being thrilled by the experience. Not frightened. Many expressed having a transcendent experience on meeting sharks for the first time, saying that nothing had prepared them for the riveting reality.

They spoke of feeling touched by the supernatural in the silence in which the sharks appeared, and of the sensation of being absolutely present and aware:

“You are part of their world for a moment—you enter their territory and they don't attack you. They come and swim around you, and they display perfectly. There is no aggression, but instead a feeling of communion, of really being together.”

“They move so slowly, yet you can see the power in their movements—they have incredible qualities you can sense.”

“They are your size, and you are there, one on one! You're looking, and its looking back, and you can see its response to seeing you, as if you have shared something—its a real encounter with an intelligent wild animal. Because of that communion you feel that sense of respect—you want to respect these animals because they respect you.”

“Its just magical to see them.”

What is wrong with this picture? How can they be talking about the same animal that is featured on Shark Week?

Strange to say, Shark Week isn't about sharks. Its about shark pornography (a Discovery term).

With shows entitled, “Shark of Darkness : Wrath of Submarine,” “Megalodon : The New Evidence,” “Air Jaws : Fin of Fury,” “JAWS Strikes Back,” “Alien Sharks : Return to the Abyss,” “Monster Hammerhead,” and “Zombie Sharks,” Shark Week is not about reality or science, in spite of frequent mentions of the word. It is about making money with a horror entertainment show.

When confronted about what they were doing by representatives from The Shark Group in a meeting in 2008, Discovery executives said that they were happy with their shark pornography. They bragged about the multi-billion dollar profit that their shows had generated since 1987, and claimed to be giving the audience exactly what they wanted by presenting horror shows. They were unconcerned that it was they who had made sharks the subject of that horror by showing little but stories featuring their open jaws, and bloody teeth.

They were also unconcerned about the ethics of demonizing endangered marine animals, while claiming to be presenting scientific facts. Their web-site claims to be presenting “quality non-fiction.”

Sharks have paid a terrible price for the riches made by Discovery. Along America’s east coast, the slaughter of sharks is obscene. The hatred launched against sharks over the decades has fuelled shark hate killings and monster shark tournaments, which, year after year, filled the landfills in countless towns and cities with mountains of decaying sharks.

Though catch and release has been claimed as the solution to this cruel massacre, expert eye-witnesses claim that the excited and malicious monster hunters fight more than 80% of the sharks gut-hooked—their fragile internal organs are sliced and torn apart, and upon their ‘release’ they simply sink.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce (NOAA), two million, seven hundred thousand sharks were killed by sports fishermen in the U.S. in 2011. This figure could be low if those killed on private boats, and not reported, were added in.

Nevertheless, many shark NGOs have joined in to capitalize on the exposure and the chance for donations, and even some scientists continue to go along for the ride. With tagging methods as the favoured means of gaining data on living sharks, the true natural behaviour of these important marine animals remains obscure to many researchers.

The problem is not only that there is a fatal prejudice against sharks, but that it is not even recognized. In the case of other animals, such as snakes, everyone knows that there is a deep bias against them, but in the case of sharks, the stark contrast between sharks as they are portrayed, and sharks as they really are is unseen. The public actually believes that sharks behave the way they are shown on Shark Week.

And Shark Week audiences are unlikely to try to find out the truth about sharks for themselves, because, of course, they are scared of them!


(c) Ila France Porcher 2014
photo credit : Tanya Izzard

Monday, 21 April 2014

Author's Website Now Online

With the second edition of my book, The Shark Sessions in pre-release mode, I got busy and put a website online. It gives some more information about how I began writing about animal behaviour, and the strange true story of the lost sharks that drives my efforts to protect the ones that remain from extinction. 

I began writing about wild animal intelligence and cognition after getting to know sharks, of all animals. Not expecting to see much of interest in such an ancient line of animals, after years of observing bears, raccoons, cougars, and the other large mammals of North America, I was intrigued to find strong signs that sharks were using cognition in their daily lives, and were more alert and quick thinking than people. Faced with an unanticipated richness of community into which the sharks had accepted me, I hung out with them for years, writing down everything that they did, everything that happened. It was they who convinced me that animals have unknown capacities, understanding, and intelligence, that has been overlooked for too long, in this world that exploits them. And when they were finned, I wrote down their story.

See : http://ilafranceporcher.wix.com/author

Please help broadcast the news of the coming book by sharing the link if you like it! This strange true story will appeal to all who love nature, and especially those who have seen what it is like at the bottom of the sea. The main theme is wild animal intelligence, and many accounts are given of surprising cognitive behaviour in birds, and even a sea turtle, all told against the background of the uneasy society surrounding it.

The release date for THE SHARK SESSIONS is June 17th, and it can be ordered from the publisher now.


https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781629022635

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What Are Sharks Aware Of?

More and more divers are meeting sharks for the first time, and wondering, “What do they see when they pass, gazing at us gazing at them?”
Sharks have a very different set of senses than we do, yet the eye-sight of the free swimming species is good, so passing sharks who have approached to look at you, are really seeing you. But you may have the impression that they are using senses other than their eyes most often, and indeed, apart from our shared good eye-sight, it is impossible for us to imagine how sharks experience their liquid realm.
Sound and vibration are very important to them. Sound travels far in water, spreading out in a uniform spherical pattern, and sharks hear well. They are particularly sensitive to low-frequency vibrations, such as those caused by movement in the water, and crashing waves. And they can detect pressure waves with the sense organ called the lateral line.
The lateral line is found in fish, sharks, and some amphibians, and is made up of a series of receptors in a line along the length of the animal. The receptors consist of a sensor within a cupola of jelly, which is directly affected by pressure in the water, just as the hair cells in our inner ears, which keep us balanced, are directly affected by movement. It is thought that the lateral line and the inner ear have a common origin far back in evolutionary time when life was selecting the basics. A complex nervous system analyses the incoming information in each tiny receptor, enabling sharks to perceive events beyond visual range through these pressure vibrations. They are aware of a person or animal moving in the vicinity, while remaining unseen, beyond the blue curtain of the visible range. The view of their environment that sharks gain through this sense, with receptors mounted the length of their bodies, is quite unimaginable for us.
Some of the sharks present at a shark feeding dive may have come to investigate, after hearing the submarine uproar caused by other sharks feeding. On their first approaches into visible range, you will see that these late comers generally pass just barely into view. A few minutes later, they will come again, probably closer.
Then there are the electro-receptive organs, the ampullae of Lorenzini. They detect voltage―electrical potential across a barrier. This is not the same as the ability to detect current flowing through a conductor, such as along a nerve—sharks cannot detect brain waves. But they can hear the beating of your heart, and sense other signals about your subjective state.
The ampullae of Lorenzini can pick up the voltage emitted by working muscle tissue. Sharks easily detect such voltage down to the microvolt range, the range emitted by most sharks’ prey. Since sea water is saltier than blood, the difference in ionic concentration produces an electrical potential between the inside and the outside of fish. The animal’s skin shields most of it, but there are places, such as the gills, that emit a faint electric field that sharks can detect.
It has been calculated that in a perfect ocean, a typical shark could detect a one-and-a-half-volt AA battery from a distance of hundreds of kilometres, but the ocean is full of background noise that limits the range to about a metre. Sharks and rays use their electro-sense to detect living prey at close range. This works even when the prey is hidden in murky water, or when it is buried in sand.
Lastly, a shark can taste and feel its prey with its sensitive mouth, which is the only part of its anatomy designed by nature for contact with the solid environment.
All of these senses are used in different combinations, depending on species and circumstance, just as we at times use hearing more than sight, and at other times are focused on an odour or touch sensation. The more than four hundred seventy species of sharks, diversified across eight orders, inhabit a wide variety of environmental niches, so their senses are adapted accordingly, and doubtless vary widely, just as birds adapted to different habitats are very different.
Sharks are aware of a very different reality than we are, yet underwater they appear as peaceful and very rational animals as they pass, looking at divers looking at them. It is possible that they can sense whether you are stressed or frightened, or completely relaxed, which could indicate to them that you are not in attack mode. Shy sharks will avoid you most when you are purposely finning and looking for them, for example, and if you want one to approach, stay very quiet in the water, and it might come closer for a look.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Extinction Soup



Extinction Soup is the inspired name of a new, dramatic film on the shark finning crisis, which Hawaiian film maker, shark diver, and advocate, Stefanie Brendl is spearheading. Philip Waller is the writer, producer and director, Sidney Sherman is the producer, and Travis Aaron Wade is the co-producer. The film is expected to be released in early 2014. For more information, have a look at their site.
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/extinction-soup
All support is much appreciated, and there are lots of perks for those who donate something to this important project.
Congratulations Stefanie! Good on you all for creating this fantastic work on behalf of sharks!


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Pain in Fish : a review of the evidence

Fisherman James D. Rose claims that fish can't feel pain. He has published a paper stating that the neocortex, the outer folded layer of the brain that is so highly developed in humans, is the seat of all higher mental functions, including consciousness of pain. Therefore, the neurological machinery required to feel pain is missing in a fish, and indeed, is present only in humans and apes. But, in focusing on a comparison of the human brain with the fish brain alone, Rose's article seems biased and anthropocentric.
Rose did not give a reason for his assertion that consciousness depends, alone, on the neocortex. Nor did his argument take into account the straightforward evolution of the vertebrate brain. From fish to man, the brain has the same structures, arranged in the same way, with the exception only of the neocortex, which developed in mammals. Neurological studies have shown that the newly evolved neocortex of mammals took over certain higher functions, which were already present in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. (I. Glynn 1999)
The expansion of the forebrain has occurred many times in different species, including in some fish, whose brain structures would fall into Rose's category. All teleost fishes (bony fishes) have elaborate forebrains (Butler and Hodos 1996) and the degree of forebrain development has been correlated with social behaviour, and communication abilities, which are considered to be integrated with cognition. (Kotrschal et al 1998).
Fish continue to develop neurons throughout their lives, and do so at a faster rate when confronted with a stimulating environment, indicating a link between experience and neural development. For example, the triggerfish, (Balistidae), which have advanced foraging techniques, have a relatively larger telencephalon—the front part of the forebrain—than most other families of fish investigated (Geiger 1956).
It is well established, for example, that birds feel pain, and have advanced cognitive abilities. Some species have better long term memories than humans, and others far exceed us in visual recognition. Yet their little pea-brains lack a neocortex. The miniaturization of the animal did not affect mental capability (Barber 1993). Tests with birds showed that higher mental capabilities could be found in a brain that is wired differently than ours. Dolphins, too, show high cognitive capabilities, but their brains have a different form than primate brains, though both are mammals (Marino 2002). There are people in which the expanded neo-cortex failed to develop, but who have normal psychology and IQ's. (Edelman and Tononi 2000). So even in humans, it seems that the neocortex is not necessary for consciousness.
Other researchers have concluded that the neocortex was not central to consciousness. Donald R. Griffin, (1998) theorized that the expanded human brain had allowed the appearance of a complex subconscious mind. Since consciousness was more likely to have been favoured by evolution due to its value for survival, he considered it more probable that the centralization of the nervous system had resulted in consciousness. No brain is simple, as anyone who has observed the activities of a spider will appreciate.
Laureys et al (2000), and other researchers, found evidence that the thalamocortical system was the essential neurological basis of conscious awareness, and Chapman and Nakamura (1999) concluded that the neural systems involved in the detection of tissue damage, (nociception) and the awareness of the pain, likely evolved as an “interactive dynamic system” with the cognitive processes, in the evolving central nervous system. These findings and others suggested that it is the way the various regions of the brain are integrated, that generates consciousness.
All of this easily available evidence that contradicted Rose's conclusions, was omitted in his article. He seemed to rely on the beliefs of fishermen, that the fish brain was so simple that it was well understood, and that it could not support consciousness. Unfortunately, fishermen had given it so much publicity that people remembered only that science had proven that fish don't feel pain. Some people started claiming that fish were missing part of their brains!
Rose ascribed Pavlovian learning, only, to fish, denying any possibility that consciousness could be involved. Other researchers found evidence that showed otherwise, and denied that learning in fish takes place in the total absence of cognition and consciousness. (Maren 2001, Lovibond and Shanks 2002; Overmier and Hollis, 1990). Chandroo et al (2004), acknowledged that learning processes seen in fish, “may require the formation of declarative memories.” (Declarative memories are memories of facts, which we can call on to use, consciously, at any time). In reviewing the relationship between learning in fish, memories, and conscious cognition, Chandroo et al found that some fish behaviour is better explained within a theoretical framework that includes primary consciousness.
Fishermen will claim that fish don't feel pain, because they have seen sharks continuing to function in spite of terrible wounds. However, this is a common behaviour even in humans. Fear is generated from deep in the brain and will over-ride pain. The effect has an obvious benefit for survival.
Another argument declare that fish cannot feel pain because sometimes a fish will bite a baited hook a second time, after being unhooked and thrown back into the sea. But, while it may be obvious to the fisherman what he is doing, how could it be obvious to the fish? These men assumed that the fish understood much more than it possibly could about its situation. It could have no basis, among its experiences in life, for understanding the fisherman's practice of deception—the possibility of a hook hidden in the bit of food it had found.
It can see no dangerous predator underwater, so how could it imagine that above the surface a man is waiting, hoping to trick and kill it? Even a human walking by the sea pursuing his own affairs, would never suspect that there was a creature waiting for him beneath the surface with a plan to trap and kill him. A fish that had already bitten a bit of food with a hook in it, has no reason to assume that the next piece of food it finds will also hide a hook.
But why ask those whose only interest in fish is to kill them? There are people who have good will towards fish : veterinarians. A bird specialist in Australia, Dr. Pat Macwhirter, wrote to me that she had assisted in surgery on a fish when a fish vet had come to work at her animal hospital. She described the fish being more sensitive than birds to electro-surgery, and said that the anaesthesia had to be deepened. There was no doubt, she told me, that the fish had felt pain.
With their training in healing, and experience with distressed animals, it seems to me that veterinarians are in a much better position than fishermen to judge whether or not an animal is in pain. I too had noted that the sharks who had escaped being landed for finning, as well as female sharks with extensive mating wounds, showed similar signs of pain as other classes of animals. They were less alert, less reactive, and slower moving.
Temple Grandin and Mark Deesing at the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners Symposium of 2002 declared that “the ability of an animal to suffer from pain may be related to the amount of associative neural circuitry linking sub-cortical structures to higher levels of the nervous system.” They considered that one could assume that an animal was in pain if it actively sought pain relief, protected injured parts, became less active when sick or injured, or self administered pain killing drugs, all of which are seen in fish, whose bodies release strong analgesics, which relieve pain.
The work of Dr. Lynne Sneddon, at the University of Edinburgh revealed 58 receptors located on the faces and heads of trout, that responded to harmful stimuli. They resembled those in higher animals, including humans. A detailed map was created of pain receptors in fish's mouths and all over their bodies.
Dr. Sneddon injected the lips of trout with acetic acid, bee venom, or saline solution as a control, and found that those injected with the noxious substances showed symptoms of pain, including an accelerated respiratory rate, rocking back and forth on their pectoral fins, rubbing the affected areas on the substrate, and taking longer to resume feeding than the control group, whose behaviour remained normal. A morphine injection significantly reduced these symptoms. (Sneddon, 2003)
The relief of the fishes symptoms by the pain reliever shows the interconnection between the nociceptors, which sense the tissue damage, and the central nervous system. Here was proof that fish are aware of tissue damage as pain.
Other researchers published papers showing that fish vocalize when they feel threatened. I too, have found that when I stroke triggerfish hiding in a cavity in the coral, it squeaks at precisely at the moment of each caress.
Rebecca Dunlop of the Queens University of Belfast, found that fish learn to avoid pain. She said: Pain avoidance in fish doesn't seem to be a reflex response, rather one that is learned, remembered and is changed according to different circumstances. Therefore, if fish can perceive pain, then angling cannot continue to be considered a non-cruel sport.
When told of these findings, James Rose replied: “One consequence, at least where I live, is that all the revenues that support research on the habitat of fishes, that monitor the health of the fish populations here—all the biologists who do this work are funded by (fishing) licence revenues. If there was no fishing there would be no one to do their job. That would be a catastrophe. That would be a colossal loss, and believe me, there would be no other funds from other sources to do the same job.” (James D. Rose speaking to science reporter Abbie Thomas, the producer of “All in the Mind,” at ABC)
This seemed a further indication that his paper allegedly proving that fish don't feel pain was politically motivated rather than an honest desire to find out the truth. Note that he had done no study, as Dr. Lynne Sneddon did, to determine whether fish feel pain or not. He had simply declared that a difference between the human brain and the fish brain proved that fish can't feel pain, while ignoring other relevant evidence.
And it can be argued that research by and for sport fishermen is of questionable ultimate value since it focuses only on the target species, to the neglect of the others in the aquatic community, and is conducted in hope of favourable results for a political cause. 
Sneddon's results have been found since by other researchers who have further investigated the best way to relieve pain in fish during surgery. (Harms et al. 2005) Pain relief is now systematically used by veterinarians who perform surgery on fish, in the full belief that they feel pain. It is now believed that the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in mammals.
It is daunting, how many people remain proud of their efforts to outwit fish. They don't see the irony in claiming that fish are too simple to feel pain, while being proud of their ability to outwit them. This appears to be the mindless acceptance of a tradition, resulting from a discovery in the stone age, and, incredibly, still bragged about in the computer age.


References
Alexander RD (1987) The biology of moral systems. Aldine de Gruiter, New York
Aronson LR (1951) Orientation and jumping behavior in the goby fish Bathygobius soporator. Am Mus Novitates 1486
Aronson LR (1956) Further studies on orientation and jumping behaviour in the goby fish Bathygobius soporator. Anat Rec 125:606
Bshary R, Wickler W, Fricke H (2002) Fish cognition: a primate's eye view. Animal Cognition (2002) 5 : 1-13
Colin PL (1972) Daily activity patterns and effects of environmental conditions on the behaviour of the yellowhead jawfish Opistognathus aurifrons, with notes on its ecology. Zoologica 57:137-169
Colin PL (1973) Burrowing behaviour of the yellowhead jawfish, Opistognathus aurifrons. Copeia 1973:84-90
Barber TX (1993) The Human Nature of Birds. Bookman Press, Melbourne
Clutten-Brock TH, Parker GA (1995) Punishment in animal societies. Nature 373:209-215
Chandroo KP, Yue S, and Mocci RD (2004) An evaluation of current perspectives on consciousness and pain in fishes. Fish and Fisheries 5. 281-295
Chapman, CR and Nakamura Y (1999) A passion of the soul: an introduction to pain for consciousness researchers. Consciousness and Cognition 8. 391-422
Dugatkin LA, Wilson DS (1993) Fish behaviour, partner choice, and cognitive ethology. Rev Fish Biol Fish 3:368-372
Duzer EM van (1939) Observations on the breeding habits of the cut-lip minnow, Exoglossum maxillingua. Copeia 1939:65-75
Fricke H (1971) Fische als Feinde tropischer Seeigel. Mar Biol 9:328-338
Edelman GM and Tononi G (2000)A Universe of Consciousness. Basic Books, New York, NY
Glynn I. (1999) An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind. Wiedenfield and Nicholson
Geiger W (1956) Quantitative Untersuchungen über das Gehirn der Knochenfische, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung seines relativen Wachstums, I Acta Anat 26: 121-163
Grandin T. and Deesing M. American Board of Veterinary Practitioners - Symposium 2002 May 17, 2002, Special Session Pain, Stress, Distress and Fear. Emerging Concepts and Strategies in Veterinary Medicine
Griffin DR (1998) Animal Minds. The University of Chicago Press.
Grutter AS 1995 Relationships between cleaning rates and ectoparasite loads in coral reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 118:51-58
Harmes CA, Lewbart GA, Swanson CR, Kishimori JM, Boylan SM (2005) Behavioural and Clinical Pathology Changes in Koi Carp (Cyprinus carpio) Subjected to Anaesthesia and Surgery with and without Intra-Operative Analgesics. Comparative Medicine Vol. 55 No. 3 221-226
Kacher H (1963) Opithognathus aurifrons (Opisthognathidae) Graben einer Wohnhöhle, Wallbau Film E514, Encyclopaedia Cinematographica. Institut für den wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen
Lachner A (1952) Studies of the biology of the cyprinid fish of the chub genus Nocomis of northeastern United States. Am Midl Nat 48:433-466
Laureys S., Faymonville ME, Luxon A, Lamy M, Franck G, and Maquet P (2000) Restoration of thalamocortical connectivity after recovery from persistent
Lovibond PF , Shanks DR (2002) The role of awareness in Pavlovian conditioning: empirical evidence and theoretical implication. Journal of Experimental Psychology 28 3-26
Maren S (2001) Neurobiology of Pavlovian fear conditioning. Annual Review of Neuroscience 24. 897-931
Marino L (2002) Convergence of complex cognitive abilities in cetaceans and primates. Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 59. 21-32
Milinski M, Pfluger D, Külling D, Kettler R (1990b) Do sticklebacks cooperate repeatedly in reciprocal pairs? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 27:17-21
Morris D (1958) The reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback (Pygosteus pungitius L.). Behaviour [Suppl] 6:1-154
Myrberg AA, Riggio RJ (1985) Acoustically mediated individual recognition by a coral reef fish (Pomacentrus portitus)
Myrberg AA, Montgomery WL, Fishelson L (1988) The reproductive behaviour of Acanthurus nigrofuscus (Forskal) and other surgeon fishes (Fam. Acanthuridae) of Eilat, Israel (Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea). Ethology 79:31-61
Nowak MA, Sigmund K (1998) Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring. Nature 393:573-577
Overmier JB, Hollis KL (1990) Fish in the think tank: learning, memory, and integrated behaviour. Neurobiology of Comparative Cognition (eds Kesner RP, Olson DS), Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsday, NJ. pp. 205-236
Roberts G (1998) Competitive altruism: from reciprocity to the handicap principle. Proc R Soc Lond B 265:427-431
Rose, JD 2002 The neurobehavioural nature of fishes, and the question of awareness and pain. Rev. Fish. Sci. 10:1-38
Sneddon, LU 2003. The evidence for pain in fish: The use of morphine as an analgesic. Applied Animal Behavior Science. 83:153-162.

Zahavi A (1995) Altruism as a handicap—the limitations of kin selection and reciprocity. J Avian Biol 26:1-3

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Fish Are Animals Who Do Things

If you find it hard to believe that fish feel pain, consider this!

Cognition—the ability to think—was an important factor in the establishment of whether fish could feel pain, and it happened that in the same year as Rose's article was published, Bshary, Wickler, and Fricke published a review of the findings on the cognitive capabilities of fish (Bshary et al 2002). Here are a few examples:
Recognition of others as individuals has long been established in many varieties of fish, both visually and acoustically (Myrberg and Riggio 1985). It forms the first step towards complex social lives, in which cognition is often most evident. I documented relationships among reef sharks for years. They, too, relate to each other individually.
Social learning is illustrated by the migrations of the surgeon fish (Acathurus nigrofuscus), described in detail by Arthur A. Myrberg Jr. in 1998. These fish leave their territories all over the lagoon, and travel in single file through paths in the coral to their traditional spawning grounds. They go and return along the same paths each night at precisely the same time, as I saw in the local lagoon, year after year. Their spawning ground was the only place along the lagoon's border where the outflowing current was exactly balanced by the incoming surge, so that the huge cloud of spawn that they left in the gathering night, stayed in place. These short term migrations had been shown to be the result of social learning; each generation of fish learned from its elders where to go to spawn, and when.
Triggerfish (Balistidae) often feed on sea urchins. Usually, they try to blow them onto their side to get access to the unprotected body parts beneath. Hans Fricke (1971) observed at Eilat how five different individuals of Balistapus undulatus sucessfully hunted sea urchins by first biting off the spines, which allowed them to grab the urchin and take it to the surface. They fed on the unprotected parts underneath while the urchin slowly sank. In spite of decades of observations, Fricke never saw this behaviour anywhere else. It appeared to be the result of social learning.
Intertidal gobies (Gobius soporator), live in tide pools, and during low tide they can jump from one to another, without being able to see their target pool at the beginning of the jump. Experimentation showed that the fish had memorized the lay of the land around the home pool by swimming over it when the tide was in, so were referring to a three dimensional memory to navigate when the outgoing tide left them only a labyrinth of pools. (Aronson 1951, 1956).
With the exception of humans, fish are more skillful than primates at nest building. At least 9000 fish species build some sort of nest, either for egg laying or for protection.
The male minnow Exoglossum selects more than three hundred stones, all of the same size, from over 5 m distance, to build a spawning mound 35 cm wide and 10 cm high (van Duzer 1939). Another fish builds dome-shaped nests from 10,000 pebbles (Lachner 1952).
The jawfish, (Opistognathus aurifrons), collects stones of various sizes to build a wall, leaving a hole just big enough to pass through. This involves repeated rearrangement of the stones. In between, the fish searches for new stones that might better fit the available space than the ones it has already collected, using flexible behaviour depending on the circumstances (Kacher 1963; Colin 1972, 1973).
Another example showing surprising flexibility of behaviour is the ability of the ten-spined stickleback (Pygosteus pungitius), to build his nest around the eggs if the female has already laid them, though he usually builds the nest first (Leiner 1931). Great care is required, and a different technique has to be used to avoid damaging the eggs. Since those eggs do hatch, the males achieve their goal. (Morris 1958)
Redouin Bshary (2002), described seeing cooperative hunting between red sea coral groupers (Plectropomus pessuliferus), or lunartail groupers (Variola louti), and giant moray eels (Gymnothorax javanicus):
These two large species of groupers were observed regularly approaching the eels that were resting in a coral cave, and shaking their bodies in exaggerated movements, usually at less than 1 m distance to the moray eel.... In 7 of 14 observations, the moray eel left its cave and the two predators would swim next to each other, searching for prey. The groupers would often come so close that the two predators touched each other at their sides. While the moray eels sneaked through holes, the groupers waited above the corals for escaping fish.
Another unusual form of cooperation among different species is seen in cleaning symbiosis. Cleaner fish come from many different fish families, and depend on cleaning for their diet to varying degrees. They clean the dead skin and ectoparasites from their clients in return for a meal. Full time cleaners may have about 2,300 interactions per day, with clients belonging to 100 different species! (Grutter 1995)
According to the evidence, cleaners have their hundred client species categorized as those who only come to their local cleaner, and those whose home ranges include the territories of other cleaners. For the latter, they have competition, so give them priority over the locals, who have no choice of cleaner.
Cleaners sometimes “cheated” by feeding off the client's healthy flesh as well as doing the usual cleaning job, and the clients with no choice of cleaner punished the cleaner by aggressively chasing it, and inflicting a bite or two, as they saw fit. (Clutten-Brock and Parker 1995). But these clients benefited in the future, because the cleaner fish were seen to give them, but not others who visited in the meantime, a better-than-average cleaning service on the next visit! Apparently cleaners can distinguish more than 100 individual clients belonging to various species.
Cleaners will hover above the client and touch it with their fins, in an effort to influence its decision to come for a cleaning. This touching tactic is also used to try to reconcile with a client whom they have cheated as described above. Cleaners even exploit the presence of a third party in an attempt to make aggressive clients stop chasing them by going to a nearby predator and caressing it, so that the client dares not continue the chase!
Cleaners will behave altruistically toward their clients if they are being watched by potential new clients—but only those who could visit another cleaning station. Since clients will emulate the behaviour of the former client, the sight of another being treated very well by the cleaner, is more likely to convince it to come for servicing than seeing another client being chased or eaten! This tactic suggests a short term image, or social prestige (Alexander 1987; Zahavi 1995; Nowak and Sigmund 1998; Roberts 1998), that determines their success in attracting new clients.
Such complex social behaviour—cheating, reconciliation, altruism, species recognition, individual recognition, punishment, social prestige, and bookkeeping, displayed by full-time cleaners 50 to 100 times per day, is generally considered to indicate consciousness when displayed in primates.
A similar example of social judgement is given by predator inspection, in which different individuals take turns to lead others away from the school to look over a predator. Fish who don't take their turn cooperatively, will not be trusted by their partners in the future. In other words, the fish make an evaluation of the behaviour of another individual, remembers it, and takes it into account in future decisions. (Milinski et al. 1990b; Dugatkin and Wilson 1993)

At the end of the review of cognition in fish, Bshary wrote: “We are aware of only one experimentally shown qualitative difference in mechanisms between primates and fish, and this difference is the ability to imitate.”

References

Alexander RD (1987) The biology of moral systems. Aldine de Gruiter, New York
Aronson LR (1951) Orientation and jumping behavior in the goby fish Bathygobius soporator. Am Mus Novitates 1486
Aronson LR (1956) Further studies on orientation and jumping behaviour in the goby fish Bathygobius soporator. Anat Rec 125:606
Bshary R, Wickler W, Fricke H (2002) Fish cognition: a primate's eye view. Animal Cognition (2002) 5 : 1-13
Colin PL (1972) Daily activity patterns and effects of environmental conditions on the behaviour of the yellowhead jawfish Opistognathus aurifrons, with notes on its ecology. Zoologica 57:137-169
Colin PL (1973) Burrowing behaviour of the yellowhead jawfish, Opistognathus aurifrons. Copeia 1973:84-90
Barber TX (1993) The Human Nature of Birds. Bookman Press, Melbourne
Clutten-Brock TH, Parker GA (1995) Punishment in animal societies. Nature 373:209-215
Chandroo KP, Yue S, and Mocci RD (2004) An evaluation of current perspectives on consciousness and pain in fishes. Fish and Fisheries 5. 281-295
Chapman, CR and Nakamura Y (1999) A passion of the soul: an introduction to pain for consciousness researchers. Consciousness and Cognition 8. 391-422
Dugatkin LA, Wilson DS (1993) Fish behaviour, partner choice, and cognitive ethology. Rev Fish Biol Fish 3:368-372
Duzer EM van (1939) Observations on the breeding habits of the cut-lip minnow, Exoglossum maxillingua. Copeia 1939:65-75
Fricke H (1971) Fische als Feinde tropischer Seeigel. Mar Biol 9:328-338
Edelman GM and Tononi G (2000)A Universe of Consciousness. Basic Books, New York, NY
Glynn I. (1999) An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind. Wiedenfield and Nicholson
Geiger W (1956) Quantitative Untersuchungen über das Gehirn der Knochenfische, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung seines relativen Wachstums, I Acta Anat 26: 121-163
Grandin T. and Deesing M. American Board of Veterinary Practitioners - Symposium 2002 May 17, 2002, Special Session Pain, Stress, Distress and Fear. Emerging Concepts and Strategies in Veterinary Medicine
Griffin DR (1998) Animal Minds. The University of Chicago Press.
Grutter AS 1995 Relationships between cleaning rates and ectoparasite loads in coral reef fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 118:51-58
Harmes CA, Lewbart GA, Swanson CR, Kishimori JM, Boylan SM (2005) Behavioural and Clinical Pathology Changes in Koi Carp (Cyprinus carpio) Subjected to Anaesthesia and Surgery with and without Intra-Operative Analgesics. Comparative Medicine Vol. 55 No. 3 221-226
Kacher H (1963) Opithognathus aurifrons (Opisthognathidae) Graben einer Wohnhöhle, Wallbau Film E514, Encyclopaedia Cinematographica. Institut für den wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen
Lachner A (1952) Studies of the biology of the cyprinid fish of the chub genus Nocomis of northeastern United States. Am Midl Nat 48:433-466
Laureys S., Faymonville ME, Luxon A, Lamy M, Franck G, and Maquet P (2000) Restoration of thalamocortical connectivity after recovery from persistent
Lovibond PF , Shanks DR (2002) The role of awareness in Pavlovian conditioning: empirical evidence and theoretical implication. Journal of Experimental Psychology 28 3-26
Maren S (2001) Neurobiology of Pavlovian fear conditioning. Annual Review of Neuroscience 24. 897-931
Marino L (2002) Convergence of complex cognitive abilities in cetaceans and primates. Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 59. 21-32
Milinski M, Pfluger D, Külling D, Kettler R (1990b) Do sticklebacks cooperate repeatedly in reciprocal pairs? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 27:17-21
Morris D (1958) The reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback (Pygosteus pungitius L.). Behaviour [Suppl] 6:1-154
Myrberg AA, Riggio RJ (1985) Acoustically mediated individual recognition by a coral reef fish (Pomacentrus portitus)
Myrberg AA, Montgomery WL, Fishelson L (1988) The reproductive behaviour of Acanthurus nigrofuscus (Forskal) and other surgeon fishes (Fam. Acanthuridae) of Eilat, Israel (Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea). Ethology 79:31-61
Nowak MA, Sigmund K (1998) Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring. Nature 393:573-577
Overmier JB, Hollis KL (1990) Fish in the think tank: learning, memory, and integrated behaviour. Neurobiology of Comparative Cognition (eds Kesner RP, Olson DS), Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsday, NJ. pp. 205-236
Roberts G (1998) Competitive altruism: from reciprocity to the handicap principle. Proc R Soc Lond B 265:427-431
Rose, JD 2002 The neurobehavioural nature of fishes, and the question of awareness and pain. Rev. Fish. Sci. 10:1-38
Sneddon, LU 2003. The evidence for pain in fish: The use of morphine as an analgesic. Applied Animal Behavior Science. 83:153-162.

Zahavi A (1995) Altruism as a handicap—the limitations of kin selection and reciprocity. J Avian Biol 26:1-3

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Keep the Secrets of the Sea

In January an in-depth study of the current depletion of sharks was published (Worm et al 2013). It revealed that the numbers of sharks killed for shark fin soup are not falling, that no sharks have been saved, and that the ravenous market for the infamous party soup continues to be fed, in spite of the increase in support for shark protection that has come in the last decade.

A review of the way our society treats sharks reveals almost no segment in which they are respected, with the exception of certain researchers, divers and veterinarians. Their fins are taken for soup by the Asians, they are vilified by Shark Week in the west, they are wrestled and stabbed by scientists for a few minutes of glory as a he-man “shark fighter” on National Geographic or the ill-termed “Discovery Channel,” and they are fished as sea monsters by “sportsmen.” Television with its monster shows has unleashed an out pouring of hatred that has allowed them to be massacred in full view with almost no public outcry nor protest, and the idea that they should be exterminated stands in the way of protecting them from extinction. Even science often measures the numbers of sharks it kills in the metric tons, with no regard for any individual.

And no one weeps for sharks.

But this is the point :

Much research, including some sponsored by certain NGO's who claim to be working for their protection, is geared to finding out where sharks are, how many are there, and announcing that information amid as much fanfare as possible, often using the unpleasant blood and teeth slant of Shark Week or National Geographic as the medium to dramatize the information to the maximum.

What is wrong with this picture?

This is exactly what shark finners want to know—where sharks are!

Since shark fin is the most valuable seafood, surely no one who is actually concerned about their welfare would ever reveal such information. Look what happened to the sharks using the much publicized shark “superhighway” off the west coast of Central America. It attracted shark finners en masse and it was the sharks who paid for this grand discovery. Some secrets of the sea should remain secret.

Why is this information being so widely tooted by those who claim to be protecting sharks? Because its easy to get with modern equipment, so with little invested, a dramatically announced discovery can lead to many more millions in donations? Possibly. There must be some reason for it.

I implore you to think twice about aiding and abetting such efforts by revealing the location, species, or numbers of the sharks you see while diving.

If you learn where sharks are do not tell anyone. If you see sharks on a dive, do not report their location or numbers to anyone. Do not get attached to any place, to any underwater beauty, if you don't want your heart to be broken.

We all read all the time about the millions of sharks being finned all over the world, figures that seem unreal. I assure you that they will no longer seem unreal if you go diving, and find the sharks you loved to be with lying alive and finless on the bottom of the dive-site instead of circling majestically around you. Then even if its only one million sharks you find, or maybe only twenty five, you will find that the psychological effect is a lot more intense.

As an analogy, it is disturbing to hear that some dogs elsewhere were poisoned. But if it was your dogs who were poisoned, you reel.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sharks Lack the Bite Reflex we know in Mammals


During my seven year study of the behaviour of wild reef sharks, I had many opportunities to observe them under circumstances in which I expected them to bite, as a dog or other mammal would tend to do. Yet they did not. Further, while the sharks had preferred companions, I never saw them fighting with each other. They appeared to have friends, but no enemies.
For years people had told me, and I half believed myself, that one day I would be bitten and would bleed to death, or faint and drown. Since I was alone far from shore as night was falling, I could expect no one to save me. These circumstances enhanced what appeared to be an instinctive tendency to react with darkening consciousness and soaring terror to certain visual cues. So I had long acquaintance with the phenomenon of fear. Often it took all my psychological force to compose my mind in order to overcome it.
When things went wrong, I would find myself in tossing waters opaque with blood and excited sharks, in a situation for which I was unprepared. Yet, no matter what happened, no shark bit me, time after time.
All other species, wild and tame, with whom I had a fraction of the intimacy I shared with sharks had bitten me sooner or later, either by accident or in a fit of pique. Even my pet dog sometimes grabbed my hand in her teeth along with the offered cookie.
Why had none of those hundreds of sharks of four different species, some many times my size, ever bitten me? I would watch Martha, my favourite, coil through the sea in front of my face, snapping up the treats I was freeing for her while ignoring my hands and the little plastic bag I had brought them in, and be convinced that it could not be a random coincidence.
There had to be a reason.
One night I accidentally kicked a shark with all my force, not realizing that the six foot animal was between my legs as I finned upward to reach into my kayak. Horrified, I peered underwater to scrutinize the situation, expecting her to instantly turn and slash. But there was no change in either her speed nor trajectory as she curved around to lazily circle me.
It was then that I realized that I was expecting a reaction from a shark that was based on my experiences with mammals. As mammals, we share the automatic biting reflex displayed by dogs, cats, primates, rats, and even vegetarian mammals. Anyone who has been seriously assaulted knows that the instinct to bite in self defence is very thinly veiled beneath our civilized daily lives. It is an automatic reflex that we take for granted.
But that night, I realized that these requiem sharks must lack this bite reflex.
Our fear of sharks is based on the intrinsic knowledge that we, and animals like us, instinctively bite in aggression or fear. We just naturally assume that sharks will too.
But they don't.
Sharks do not share this biting reflex with us, and that is the missing key. With their big mouths and shocking sets of teeth, our imaginations are undone as we consider them opening to bite us. But in fact, they bite only to eat, not to injure another animal.
On the contrary, they seem to have an inborn inhibition against biting companion animals. They don't regard us as prey, so they apparently view us as other animals who share their ecological community.
Even the great white shark has been shown by Dr. Peter Klimley to ritualize conflict when ownership of a seal prey comes into question. The shark who can splash water farthest with its tail wins the seal, so a physical battle, which would gravely harm both sharks, given their dentition, is avoided.
Unfortunately, our instinctive fear has been used by the media to entertain us with horror shows, starring sharks as the only known monsters in the sea. The wide spread shark attack hysteria that has resulted from years of such misrepresentation of sharks is one of the great obstacles to shark protection. Examples are the movie "Jaws" and Discovery Channel's highly profitable annual "Shark Week."
Given the numbers of people using the oceans for recreation, it is actually remarkable that so few are accidentally bitten by members of this highly evolved and intelligent, predatorial class of animals. Far more people are bitten to death by cats and dogs, slain by lightning or falling coconuts, or murdered by their own species.
For further information, my book "My Sunset Rendezvous : Crisis in Tahiti" meticulously describes the counter-intuitive behaviour the sharks displayed with me underwater, over the 15 years that I spent observing them in French Polynesia. 
Ila France Porcher