Most people tend to think of fish as food on the table or as pets in the tank, but an Australian researcher says they’re actually smart, complex creatures that, like humans, also feel pain. Culum Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University in Australia, says fish have very good memories, live in complex social communities and can even recognize themselves and others. They also have all the requisite “hardware” for pain perception, he says. Focusing in particular on bony fish, Brown writes in a review article to be published in the journal Animal Cognition: “Indeed if one examines the pain receptors in fish you would find remarkable resemblance to those in humans.” Whether fish feel pain has been a topic of considerable scientific debate. A 2003 study found that rainbow trout responded to morphine as a painkiller. But one major study in 2013 concluded that fish do not feel pain the way humans do — that is, as an emotional, conscious response.
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