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Just How Intelligent are Fish Really?

21st Nov 2019

The recent and amazing BBC Nature Series Blue Planet II has been leaving viewers in the millions gasping with astonishment! As well as the stunning visuals and superlative commentary by much loved national treasure David Attenborough, the series also featured incredible biological and evolutional wonders such as fish that change genders! Perhaps one of the most interesting and fascinating themes that was touched on more than once though, was that of the surprisingly high level of fish intelligence that has only recently been discovered.

The videos below of excerpts from the show reveal details of this aspect of underwater life in all its glory.

Fish are so intelligent that they can actually even use tools

In episode 1 we were treated to the incredible spectacle of the Tusk Fish, searching for “something special to eat amongst the coral, rubble and sand.” The industrious little fish finds the morsel he’s looking for – a small clam. We then watch open mouthed as he proceeds to take it back to his ‘kitchen,’ where we see the tusk fish tenaciously and ferociously bashing the clam against a hard piece of jutting rock. Again and again he bashes the clam, never giving up until he succeeds at breaking it open, so he can get to the meat inside! Here we see planning, determination and logical thinking.

Fish and other ocean creatures can even work in teams

In episode 3 we even see separate species working together as a team in order to find food. A Grouper fish signals to a nearby octopus that he’s spied a potential meal, by ‘tipping on to his head, flashing white and wiggling.’ Inter-species communication no-less? …The problem is that the little fish he’s after is hiding under rocks that the Grouper is too big and not manoeuvrable enough to get to. No problem for the octopus that can flush out a hider from any crevice with its super-dextrous sucker lined tentacles. So the 2 species work together to capture their prey.

Perhaps even more impressive though is the sequence involving Clownfish (yes that’s right, just like little Nemo), working together to construct a nursery for the female of the group to lay her eggs upon.

After rejecting an empty and squashed plastic drinks bottle as not being sturdy or stable enough, they happen across an old half of a coconut shell. It’s ideal but it’s too big for one Clownfish to move and it’s not exactly close to home either. Working together though, 2 Clownfish, in an almost gymnastic and Herculean bout of swimming, nudging and hoisting – manage to transport the shell all the way back home for the female to lay her eggs on.

So here the Clownfish not only employ teamwork, but also display judgement, consideration and decision making.

So much for that thing about fish being dumb and only having a 3 second attention span then eh!