Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Do Fish Feel Pain?

Illustrator: Marsha Wajer

Illustrator: Marsha Wajer

By Brian Key

If you want to know whether your pet goldfish can feel pain you had better look inside its head to see if it has the brains for it.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

An American folktale tells of how the Good Lord created fish and filled the rivers with these creatures. The finest and most handsome fish of all was the catfish. The Good Lord made catfish with brilliantly coloured scales that sparkled hues of red, blue and gold as they swam in the shallow waters. The Good Lord enjoyed walking along riverbanks and seeing these beautiful creatures. Then one day the Good Lord came upon the Devil who was seated by a river. The Devil was plucking the scales off a catfish so he could fry it for dinner. The catfish was wincing with pain as each scale was pulled out and this angered the Good Lord. The Good Lord threw the catfish back into the water. To ease its pain, the catfish swam to the bottom of the river and slithered about in the mud. The pain disappeared and from that day on catfish no longer had scales and instead became covered in slime, making them difficult for the Devil to catch.

It’s very easy to conclude that a fish feels pain if it winces every time a scale is plucked. Plucking an eyebrow or pulling sticky plaster off your skin causes a twinge of pain, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that a grimacing fish also feels pain. However, looks can be deceiving. The question of whether fish feel pain has become a heated academic debate involving scientists and philosophers from diverse fields including neuroscience, psychology...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.