Do Fish Really Have Feelings?

Do Fish Really Have Feelings?

If this happens, they do not experience their feelings the way a human or an animal does. We are not even sure if they can feel pain. But scientists around the world are trying to answer this question, and if they do, there will be major changes across the fishing industry and how fish are regarded in general.

What We Know and Don’t Know

It is very hard for scientists to ascertain the emotional states of fish if fish have emotions. We are still discovering new ways animals express themselves to both humans and other animals. And many of these animals on land are already extremely expressive. So when trying to understand the needs and emotional states of fish, scientists must become creative.

Unfortunately, even though scientists can use advanced scientific methods and share and collaborate with other scientists across the world in real-time, there is still so much we do not know about the world we live in. Not only do scientists not understand how a fish expresses emotions, but there is also a big debate on whether they experience pain. 

Cortisol is King, No Matter What Animal You Are

The reasoning behind the theory that fish cannot experience pain is that fish have simple nervous systems, and maybe the fish is reacting to it being caught rather than having a painful hook in their mouth. Scientists do state that if fish can feel pain, it is not the same pain that humans or other mammals feel. Within a fish’s brain, some neurons are called nociceptors. These neurons help detect harm, and when they are utilized in a situation, it triggers a rapid response time within the fish and causes it to thrash and struggle or increase their swimming speed to escape.

So, Do Fish Feel Emotions?

If there is any substance that is common in the brains of many animals and sea life, it is stress. Fish have cortisol in their system, and injection of cortisol sharpens a response time and places animals, including fish, into a fight or flight mode. Cortisol is a common neurochemical in many animals because nature is stressful. Stress can be beneficial in different ways as long as it does not build up.

Because of the presence of cortisol in a fish’s system, we can safely say that fish are able to experience stress in small and great amounts. Although scientists are not sure if it is only their bodies that are distressed or do their emotions become stressed as well. 

So when a fish is stressed, their energy levels dropped as they tried to deal with the stressful situation.

Anyone who has taken care of an aquarium understands that fish are less likely to move around and explore if they are stressed out from their environment. When an aquarium fish is stressed out, it is because they are not used to their new environment, they are not getting along with other fish in the tank, or the pH balance of the water is off, and their health is being negatively affected. 

However, scientists in Portugal may have turned the scientific community on its head by proving that fish can experience some kind of emotions.

Proof that Fish Have Feelings

The Portuguese scientists tested sea bream in positive and negative situations and measured the cortisol amount in their central nervous systems while performing in each situation. They also watched the sea bream interact with other Sea bream and watched their energy levels rise and fall in each positive and negative situation.

By monitoring the responses of cortisol levels of the sea bream, scientists were able to confirm that certain situations can positively or negatively impact’s dish. Fish still have to be studied more in-depth when it comes to their emotions to understand how they process both positive and negative stimuli. But it is clear that fish in negative situations interact less with other fish and do this. But fish in positive situations come around more, communicate and collaborate with other fish, and have more energy.

Fish are More Evolved than We Expected

There’s one scientist in Sydney Australia that is light years ahead of most of the scientists when it comes to understanding fish and their emotional states. He is a professor at Marquee University in Australia, and he theorizes that not only do fish have emotions that they express regularly, they also have cultural traditions that have nothing to do with migratory or reproductive instincts.

His theories have only been applied to bony fish, but they are a type of fish that are important to understanding the evolution of fish and tetrapods. As the professor theorizes, bony fish are able to multitask and live in complex communities with other fish of their species and other species as well.

Bony fish are even able to use tools in some situations, which means that their brains are much more evolved than we expected, and their neurobiology is more developed in ways that we did not foresee.

Problems with Recognized Emotional States

If what the professor is theorizing is true, then people have been torturing and eating an animal that feels emotions for thousands of years. It also means that fish need to be just as protected as agricultural farm animals like cows, sheep, and chickens. Protective regulations could turn the fishing industry on its head. 


Although we now know that fish due process emotions like positivity and stress, they are in different ways than other mammals. They may have cultural traditions and be able to socialize in large communities with their own kind and other sea creatures. There is still no evidence if they are able to experience pain as a mammal does, but the presence of cortisol does prove that they can experience stress. Fisher able to experience stress from not getting along with other fish in their area, feeling the water change it in ways that they were not prepared for like ph off balance and contamination.

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