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Fish appear to recognise themselves in the mirror
Alex Jordan administered the mirror test on cleaner wrasse in order to test the cognitive capacity of social fish.

Study raises questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals

Fish appear to be able to recognise themselves in the mirror, according to new research.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, observed cleaner wrasse fish responding to their reflection and attempting to remove coloured marks on their body.

The finding suggests that fish have higher cognitive abilities than first thought and has sparked questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals that are so dissimilar to humans.

The research was carried out by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, the University of Konstanz and Osaka City University.

“The behaviours we observe leave little doubt that this fish behaviourally fulfils all criteria of the mirror test as originally laid out,” explained Alex Jordan, principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz.

“What is less clear is whether these behaviours should be considered as evidence that fish are self-aware - even though in the past these same behaviours have been interpreted as self-awareness in so many other animals.”

In the study, scientists placed a coloured mark on fish in an area that could only be viewed in a mirror. To gain a ‘pass,’ the fish needed to touch or investigate their mark, showing an awareness of the reflected image.

The researchers witnessed the fish attempting to remove the marks by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces after looking at themselves in the mirror.

The fish did not attempt to remove transparent marks in the presence of a mirror, nor did they attempt to remove the coloured marks when no mirror was present. This suggests that the fish were responding to the visual cue of seeing the mark on themselves in the mirror.

To the authors of the study, the results present clear evidence of behaviours that appear to pass every phase of the classic mirror test. What is not yet clear, however, is whether the evidence shows that fish possess self-awareness.

“Personally, I find the most parsimonious interpretation to be that these fish do pass the test as given, but this doesn’t mean they are self-aware,” Alex continued. “Rather they come to recognise the reflection as a representation of their own bodies without the involvement of self-consciousness.

“Given this, we should critically evaluate whether the mark test remains the gold-standard for awareness testing in animals.”

Image (C) Max Planck Institute/S.Gingins.

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New York to ban sale of foie gras

News Story 1
 New York City councillors have voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation that will see the ban of foie gras in the city. The move, which comes in response to animal cruelty concerns, will take effect in 2022.


 Councillor Carlina Rivera, who sponsored the legislation, told the New York Times that her bill “tackles the most inhumane process” in the commercial food industry. “This is one of the most violent practices, and it’s done for a purely luxury product,” she said.


 Foie gras is a food product made of the liver of a goose or duck that has been fattened, often by force-feeding. New York City is one of America’s largest markets for the product, with around 1,000 restaurants currently offering it on their menu. 

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Humane Slaughter Association student scholarships open for applications

Applications for the Humane Slaughter Association’s student/trainee Dorothy Sidley Memorial Scholarships are now open.

The Scholarships provide funding to enable students or trainees in the industry to undertake a project aimed at improving the welfare of food animals during marketing, transport and slaughter. The project may be carried out as an integral part of a student's coursework over an academic year, or during the summer break.

The deadline for applications is midnight on the 28 February 2020. To apply and for further information visit www.hsa.org.uk/grants or contact the HSA office.