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Here you see fish who have demonstrated unsuspected cognitive and social skills once researchers begin to pay them attention. So what did they do to earn this status?

Cooperative food sourcing:

Short-tail stingrays are usually solitary, but rays at Woollamia not all that far north of home have begun to develop social behaviours and hierarchies. The impetus is competition for refuse from a pipe leading from the fish-cleaning table. Researcher Joni Pini-Fitzsimmons has been observing this change, and naming the rays she observes, because they have “personality.”

Recognition of their own image: 

This is a rarity beyond humans, but manta rays do it.

Sharing skills and knowledge:

Calum Brown is a seasoned researcher in fish cognition. He’s documented rainbow fish: they recognise each other; prefer to shoal with fish they know; have clear social hierarchies; and not only figure out how to evade traps but teach evasion tactics to shoalmates. On top of this, they associate a signal with food twice as fast as rats do.

Food access skills:

Wrasse and tusk fish behave with the same skill as crows: they strike shellfish against rocks to open them. Aquaculture cod have figured out that they can trigger a feeding device using the tags on their fins. 

Developing a business and maintaining customer relations:

Then there’s my favourite, the Great Barrier Reef cleaner wrasse. It’s entrepreneurial, setting up cleaning stations where other fish stop to have dead skin and parasites removed and it remembers and recognises each client. Sometimes it’s tempted and steals a bit of flesh, and has been noticed chasing the victim to try and mollify it by rubbing its back with pelvic fins. It can obviously attribute mental states to others, something plenty of humans have trouble with.

If you want to find out more about cleaner wrasse, have a look at


I suppose my jackdaw mind picked up the mention of a stingray in an article by James Bradley in the April 2017 issue of the Monthly because I’d just encountered one as I walked along Narooma Boardwalk. I’d read the article before, without any particular interest, but now I combed it intently  because I knew one creature he was writing about. The title of the article is misleading “Fish have feelings too”, understates the case.