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New Study Reveals Self-Awareness in Fish Species

Giant manta rays can use mirrors to examine different parts of their bodies that wouldn’t have otherwise been visible.

A new study conducted at the Atlantis Aquarium in the Bahamas is fueling sentiments long-held by animal-rights activists that fish are sentient, intelligent beings. Marine biologists Csilla Ari and Dominic P. D’Agostino performed a self-recognition test with two captive manta rays by installing a mirror in their tanks and recording the animals’ interaction with it. What they witnessed, they say, is significant. “The manta rays showed contingency checking and self-directed behavior, such as unusual, repetitive behavior, including exposing body parts to the mirror that would not have been visible otherwise, while visually oriented to the mirror,” the researchers said in a video of the behavior posted to YouTube. Biologist Jonathan Balcombe says the observed behavior is a clear signifier of self-awareness and that the Bahamian findings confirm his own research into the behavior and emotions of fish. “What I’ve uncovered indicates that we grossly underestimate these fabulously diverse marine vertebrate,” Balcombe penned in a New York Times article. “The accumulating evidence leads to an inescapable conclusion: Fishes think and feel.”

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