Sunday, October 3,2004 Fast-learningfish have memories that put their owners to shame BY ROBERT MATTHEWS nionths, confounding the Sc~ence Correspondent belief that they forget evc1.y- thing after a fen' seconds. IF YOU thought fish were cold, Ilr Culum Brown at the wet creatures who forget every University of Edinbur.gh has thmg in three seconds flat, found that Australian crimson thmk agaln. Scienhsts have spotled rainhowfish, which found they are fast learners, learnt to escape from a net in &my mental maps around in their tank, reinembpred how thew heads - and can retain they did ~t 11 months later. memotles for month5 This is equivalent to a human Swimmlng gormlescly recalling a lesson learnt 40 around in them bowls or bnks, years ago. f ~ s h a w long been d~smlssed h Dr Burt de Perera's findings a c dunces compared w ~ t h have heen welcomed hy fish- "h~eher"an~mals such as rats. Theresa Burt de Perera found that flsh use thelr memorles lovers as woof that their nets cat; dogs and primates. This w n do mire than blow thb- view is now being challenged blind Mexican cave fish, them within a few hours. bles. "They are totally misun- by findings that could re-ignite which rely on subtle changes Once stored in their brains, derstood," said Karen Youngs, the debate over the cruelty of in pressure to detect the pres- the fish used their "mental the editor of Prmlical Wsh- angling. Tests o n fish in ence of objects around them. map" to spot changes in the keel~ing. "We Imow from our aquaria at Oxford University In experiments, Dr Burt de obstacles around them - a readers that fish can recognise have shown that despite their Perera found that the fish did feat that defeats hamsters. their owners, and some will go tiny brains, they possess cogni- m o r e t h a n m e r e l y avoid I n o n e t e s t , involving into a sulk if someone else tries tive abilities outstripping those bumping into objects in their obstacles arranged in a spe- to feed them." of some s~nall mammals. tank. They huilt a detailed cific order, the fish proved Mrs Yourigs added that the Dr Theresa Burt de Perera map of their surroundings, capable of memorising the resexch may inem (hat fish- made the discovery using memorising the obstacles in order and quickly spotted owners have to make their when Dr Burt d e Perera aquaria a bit more interesting swapped obstacles around. for their occupants: "We know According to Dr Burt de that fish such as oscars do Perera, the findings - which enjoy having a table-tennis hall appear in the current issne of to bash about." the Proceedings o lhe Royal f Mounting evidcnce for fish intelligence is likely to re- ignite the controversy over angling, which has focused 'We know that some mainly on whether fish can feel fish will go into a pain. "This research moves the sulk if someone else dehaie along, by showir~g t t k fish ;u.cn't just swimming vegc- tries to feed them' tables." said Damn Carr, the director of People for the Icthi- cal Treatment of Animals. Society - show that fish are "The more we find nut ahout under-estimated. fish, the less likely people are "The public perception of to feel comfottablc about them is that they are pea- impaling them on a hook for brained numhsltulls that can't fun." remember things for more Anglers dismissed such than a few seconds," she told views. "Their intelligence just lke Szrndny Teleqraplz. "Wc're adds to the interest - it would now finding that they are very be awful if people were only c a p a b l e of l e a r n i n g a n d wtching fish that were stupid," rememhcring, and possess n said Rodney Coldron, a range of cognitive skills that spokesman for the National would surprise many people." Federation of Anglers. "I think Laboratory tests on other it might attract more people to fish have found that they can fishing, by showing it's more of store memorirs for many an even contest."