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Marine Life & Conservation

Do Fish Feel Pain?

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Since I was a child and watched images on TV of millions of fish being crushed and suffocated in giant nets and then dumped unceremoniously onto the deck of a boat, I have always been uncomfortable with the notion that those fish felt no pain or fear. My elders and betters always said that the fish had no real feelings as we know it and so there was no problem. I believed this right up to my late teens as it was easier to accept this rather than the cruel and thoughtless alternative of just turning a blind eye. We are expert at justifying our cruelty to other species, but surely we have advanced far enough now as a civilization to consider the true consequences of our actions.

As I began my career as an underwater wildlife cameraman/filmmaker I began to see marine creatures in an entirely different light. One of the absolutes of making good wildlife films is to study closely animal behaviour and try to capture it on camera.  I began to watch individual fish as well as crustaceans, soon discovering that each animal had its own personality. Individual fish reacting differently to others of the same species to the same circumstances. I have seen fish show traits of thought and fear. I have also seen many species struggle and suffer with pain.

I have been told by learned people that this is just fancy. Fish and certainly crustaceans have no physiology to register pain and any reactions are simply reflex. I could never decide if this was just self denial for the countless billions of marine animals we have made to suffer in the past or total arrogance in the belief that we know everything, and because there was no scientific proof that fish suffer pain, so it could not be happening.

One of the problems here is that fish make no recognisable noise to us. We can’t hear any screams. It is the same with other marine animals. We don’t hear crustaceans cry in terror and pain when they are dropped into boiling water. We even hide the frantic scrabbling of them trying to escape by putting the lid on the pot.

I always equate an animal’s ability to feel pain and fear by its efforts to fight for life. Its panic to get away, its struggle to defend itself. Surely this is an indication that the creature is experiencing something that terrifies it. If I see a fish on the end of a spear, shaking in its death throes while trying to escape, I have to say to myself that it is feeling pain. My entire body and mind tell me this is so. An octopus writhing on a kitchen chopping board screams out to me that it is afraid and feeling untold pain as the knife removes its arms. I am sure that many animals deal with pain in different ways and far better than we do, many species being able to overcome loss of limbs by regeneration. This does not make the loss any less painful.

We are discovering new things every day, aspects of life we never imagined possible only a few generations ago. The mapping of the human genome has recently revolutionised biology even though the genes were always there. Yet we still cling defiantly to the notion that things only exist when science proves it to be so.

I have had heated discussions with people from many walks of life about this and I am always amazed at how often we hide our cruelty to animals behind the wall of limited scientific knowledge. It was during one of my video courses in the Red Sea this year that the topic came up again with a few people. One was a nurse and she explained very carefully how fish in particular had no biology for feeling or registering pain. Well, in fact they do, but I didn’t know this for sure until a few days ago when I finally decided to do some new research and discovered a book written in 2010 Dr Victoria Braithwaite entitled ‘Do Fish Feel Pain?’. To my relief the answer was yes they do and the science was right there in black and white. Victoria Braithwaite is Professor of Fisheries and Biology at Penn State University, USA and a Visiting Professor of Biology, University of Bergen, Norway.

Dr Victoria Braithwaite makes the science behind the debate around pain in fish accessible to non-scientists. She describes the many different pieces of evidence that together build up a picture of fish as animals that, she concludes, “have the mental capacity to feel pain”: if we accept that birds and mammals can feel pain and suffer, then there is now sufficient evidence that fish can too.

The excerpts below are taken from http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-welfare-in-commercial-fishing/fish-sentience/do-fish-feel-pain

Recent scientific research has found evidence of a limbic system in the fish brain. The limbic system in the human brain is believed to be responsible for emotions. Scientists have shown that the brain is active when fish (goldfish, trout, salmon) experience painful stimuli.

Dr Victoria Braithwaite gives a surprising example of fish behaviour, involving cooperation between groupers and eels, which suggests that fish also have self-consciousness. In this context, self-consciousness means the ability to think about your own actions, to consider different possible scenarios, and to modify your decisions on how to act as necessary. Think of all the examples you know of animals that hunt together. With the exception of those involving humans, they are all between animals of the same species. Dr Victoria Braithwaite gives an example of cooperative hunting between two different species of fish, groupers and eels. This is remarkable.

http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-welfare-in-commercial-fishing/summary sum the issues up very well and I quote from them:

Commercial fishing is a major animal welfare issue. The suffering caused to a wild-caught fish is likely to be high, both in severity and duration. The number of animals affected is also very high. It is estimated that in the order of a trillion fish are caught each year.

The sentience of fish has huge ethical implications for the way they are caught and killed in fisheries.

Credit: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP); University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

There is increasing acceptance that fish are able to feel fear, pain and distress. The methods by which wild fish are caught and die are likely to cause considerable suffering.

The greatest suffering caused may be that experienced by small fish used as “live bait”. These fish are thrown live to tuna, or worse still, impaled on hooks. This practice is common in long line fishing. Live fish should not be used as bait. Other modifications to fishing practice can also help reduce the stress and injury caused to fish during capture. Such measures can help improve the survival chances of released bycatch too. Suffering could be substantially reduced by shorter time intervals between setting and retrieving nets and lines (shorter capture durations).

Most commercially-caught wild fish, that are alive when landed, die either from being left to suffocate in air, or by a combination of suffocation and live dissection. Fish treated in this way may take several hours to lose consciousness. Sometimes fish are put onto ice as they suffocate, or into iced water which may both increase and prolong their suffering.

There are two traditional methods for killing fish that have the potential to be humane, namely percussive stunning and spiking. These methods kill fish individually, and so may not be practical for larger fishing operations with large numbers of smaller fish. For these cases, humane slaughter technology used on fish farms needs to be adapted for use on fishing vessels. More humane capture and killing are likely to result in improved eating quality.

Suffering could be reduced by strategies to catch fewer fish. This could be achieved by fishing at more sustainable levels; reducing bycatch and reducing the numbers of fish caught to make fishmeal. A substantial proportion of fish caught are caught to feed to farm animals. Catching fewer fish, and catching them at a larger size, reduces the suffering for the same amount of food.

Various stakeholders (animal welfare scientists, animal protection NGO’s, environmental NGO’s, government and inter-government bodies, supermarkets and retailers, animal welfare certification schemes) have worked to address the welfare of farmed fish. A similar approach is needed to address the welfare of wild-caught fish.

I remember Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd saying to me once ‘We spend so much time, money and effort trying to communicate with animals. I only wonder what it is we would want to say to them…. Sorry?’

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

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Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater

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In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.

The Mystique of Frogfish

Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.

One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.

Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.

The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.

frogfish

Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish

Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.

Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.

Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.

Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.

Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.

Conservation and Respect

While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.

Join the Adventure

Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.

So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.

About the Author: Jonathan Rowe

Are you looking to make a splash online? As a seasoned diver and digital marketer, I specialize in crafting bespoke websites and innovative marketing strategies for dive shops worldwide. With my expertise, your business will not only be seen but also remembered.

From deep-sea to digital depths, I navigate the complex waters of web development and online marketing, ensuring your dive shop stands out in the vast ocean of the internet. Contact Scuba Dive Marketing for more information.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida

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Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Photo: www.avalon.red

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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