Jonathan Balcombe is talking about not only What a Fish Knows but how they know it, what they experience, and the question of whether or not they qualify as self-aware, sentient beings. His answer to that last is an emphatic “yes,” and he has the studies to back his conclusion. Throughout the book, he examines fish senses, intelligence, social and family lives, and concludes with a chapter on fishing. He also points out that not all fishes are alike and we have not come close to studying the wide variety out there.
The book is fascinating, bringing to light an astonishing number of unexpected revelations about fish. Each chapter’s statements are supported by an array of good, solid studies and a handful of anecdotes. Balcombe clearly states his sources, allowing the reader to see that his groundwork is solid. This does not mean the book is dry, far from it. Balcombe loves his subject and writes with a warmth that brings the reader along for the look at the cold-blooded—though as he is careful to point out, not all fish are cold-blooded. Many regulate their temperatures quite well.
Some of the most fascinating information was in the chapter on social lives. It turns out that even guppies, a fish most of us ignore unless we’re feeding it to another fish, have a social hierarchy and that they are well aware not only of where they stand in the scheme of things but where everyone else does as well. Also, there are plenty of fish who team up with fish of other species to accomplish desired tasks, from hunting to getting cleaned. The book as a whole is eye-opening.
A warning: This book might change your view of eating fish, even if you’re not a vegan. By the end of the book, Bascombe has argued convincingly for the fish as an individual entity, which moves things like bycatch over from the abstraction of an unfortunate environmental problem to a slaughter of creatures with lives, thoughts, and friends of their own.
What a Fish Knows is recommended to anyone curious about the animal kingdom, anyone who wants to know how other animals sense the world around us. It’s an important entry into the discussion of what we are and should be doing with the environment.
What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins comes out on June 7 2016 and is available for pre-order now. Follow the link in the title to order from Amazon.
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