Ah yes, to ponder the eternal question, “if a tree falls on a fish, does it yell ‘ouch’?”

Victoria Braithwaite considers that very issue in an essay that appears in the Los Angeles Times.

The conclusion? “Yes.” She came to this answer based on conducting pain threshold experiments, such as stimulating a fish’s nociceptors by injecting diluted vinegar or bee venom just under the skin of a trout – and then forcing it to watch WB sitcoms.

Whether or not fish can feel pain, they’re incredibly lucky and don’t even know it. Things could be way worse for them. For example, fish are seldom used in medical experiments and as tools of war.

Take mammals that live in the sea, such as dolphins, which have been used by the U.S. Navy for decades for tasks such as mine detection. These dolphins have been trained to release a marker when they come upon dangerous underwater obstacles, such as a mine or Ted Kennedy’s car. About three years ago, 75 bottle-nosed dolphins (so named because of what stuck to their faces after finding Kennedy’s car) were flown to the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, a city which was apparently also spelled by dolphins. Once in place in the gulf near Bahrain, the dolphins use their natural sonar abilities to, in a relatively safe way, do what it would take humans much longer and at greater expense, both financially and in lives.

But fish swim on, pain free…

If that wasn’t enough to put a twist in the tofu jerky of PETA and the like, along came the Moroccan army with an offer to supply coalition forces with a couple thousand monkeys to be used to sweep minefields.

In what must be an incredibly disgusting hundred-yard dash, monkeys are used to run across minefields where they would unknowingly step on one, detonate it, and fling poo at each other no more. You would think that, after a while, the veterans (monkeys who have survived on the job for more than 10 minutes) would figure out not to step on those lumps of dirt after witnessing those in front of them being turned into primate spackle. The monkeys that do realize what they’re into then stop, and their attempt to get back to the safe zone becomes the most dangerous game of Twister ever played.

But fish swim on, pain free…

Then there are the seals. At PETAs website site, you can sign Pamela Anderson’s hunt petition. No, no, you didn’t misread that; it’s hunt. Pam’s lobbying to protect Canadian seals from being treated like pinatas on Cinco de Mayo.

Pam’s also speaking out against cruelty to chickens: a little creature with a brain the size of a pebble, scrawny legs, high pitched squawk, and in-demand breast meat… and then of course there’s the chicken. Pam should know about chickens, since she’s personally been responsible for God knows how many chokings.

And I don’t even want to talk about guinea pigs. Any animal whose very name is to lab experiments what “Xerox” and “Google” are to copying and ‘net searches respectively, leaves fish with very little room for complaint.

But through it all, fish swim on, pain free…

So, as far as fish and pain goes, compared to other earth inhabitants, fish are getting off light. Besides, the question shouldn’t really be “do fish feel pain?” The question should be “if a fish’s brain is developed enough to feel pain, why can’t it figure out what that hook does?”

Someday, perhaps, we can reach a point where George W. Bush’s dream of humans and fish coexisting peacefully comes to fruition. Until then, please pass the tartar sauce.


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