A Matter of Sentience

Fish feel pain, or don’t they? Despite a growing body of sound evidence that fish do indeed feel pain and are sentient beings capable of all the types of cognition found in the “higher” mammals, with the possible sole exception of the ability to imitate, a group of critics seems to systematically seek to discredit this research. But for what reasons? Ila France Porcher takes a closer look at the stakes involved.

The Underrated Nurse Shark

Plentiful nurse sharks attended the sessions I held during my shark study in Tahiti. They are heavily-built animals with large, graceful fins, a long, pennant tail, and small eyes. They forage on the sea floor for a variety of foods at night and sleep in grottos in the coral during the days. Though these unusual sharks typically lie around on the sea floor, they are also capable of clambering.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Ferraris of the Sea

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the largest and fastest fish in the ocean. They are incredible swimmers. With bodies shaped like torpedoes, they are practically built for speed. Some species of tuna can swim as fast as 69kph (43mph). They are exceptional predators from the moment they are born, and they can live up to 40 years.

Pacific Northwest: Sockeye Salmon

We walked nearly a mile along the riverbank before finding a place where we could easily enter with our heavy equipment. The rotting carcasses of dead fish lay along the banks, and the associated stench was overpowering. It was late September 2010, and we had come to photograph an enormous migration of sockeye salmon, the largest run of sockeye in a century.

Goliath Groupers

Goliath grouper, or Epinephelus itajara, are the subject of strong opinions and divided emotions. Divers love to see these mammoth fish; underwater hunters denounce them as competitors, or covet them as outsized trophies; fishermen are just itching for a policy change that allows harvest; and regulatory bodies seem constantly poised to rescind long-term protection in favor of short-term exploitation.