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Old 11-02-2005, 07:49 PM   #1
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Fish Intelligence & Learning Experience?

About 8 months ago, my 9-year old son won two goldfish at a school fair. After watching them for a while, it was apparent that there is something going on in their little minds. Ever since then I've been fascinated by fish intelligence. After a little research, I discovered there is quite a bit of scientific evidence that fish are smarter than people give them credit for.

So about six months ago, on a whim, we purchased a handsome calico fantail goldfish. We named him Albert (short for Albert Einstein), and set about to see what we could teach him. Long story short, he has proven to be a remarkable student in "fish school", and has learned to perform what I consider to be some pretty impressive behaviors.

For starters, he will eat directly from my hand - a simple behavior but one I find strangely gratifying. It gives me a feeling of being much more connected to him - more like the feeling a cat or dog owner experiences I suspect.

More impressive, Albert has learned to swim through a hoop and a tunnel several times as long as his body. Their diameter is not much bigger than his body, so he has to turn on his side and tuck in his fins to squeeze through. It is really amusing to watch! Albert can even push a soccer ball into a goal, and push a football "down field" and across a goal line. No joking. He has learned it all through positive reinforcement and shaping. We've given him small bits of food reward whenever his actions even approximate the desired behavior. Over time we've been able to shape his behavior into some pretty cool tricks.

My son and I have been so intrigued and excited by Albert's success that we've set up a web site devoted to fish intelligence and training. If you want to be amused, check out these photos and videos of Albert doing his tricks:

http://www.fish-school.com/gallery.htm

For anyone still skeptical, we even have a live wabcam on Albert's "show tank." At certain times of day, you can watch me putting Albert through his paces:

http://fishschool.ww.com

I'd love feedback from people on their experiences with fish intelligence and training.

Do you have fish that show signs of intelligence? Have you trained them to do anything interesting?

What species seem most intelligent?

Do you know of other evidence for fish intelligence? I found a bunch of links to articles and scientific studies on fish intelligence, which I've listed here http://www.fish-school.com/intelligence.htm. Do you know of others?

Please don't bother to tell me I've got too much time on my hands and/or "get a life." I hear this enough from my wife . I figure if nothing else, these efforts have been a worthwhile learning experience and a great bonding opportunity for my son and me!

Dean Pomerleau
Pittsburgh, PA
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Old 11-02-2005, 08:41 PM   #2
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I think all of us have seen simple behaviors like fish that learn that opening lids mean feeding time. How much of that is "learning" and how much "conditioning" I can't say.

I think guppies are the stupidest fish. They're not even afraid of the net, or falling gravel, they just act curious and swim up to see what's going on.

I have heard of others training angelfish to eat out of the hand, or swim in a particular corner to ask for food. And of course we all have heard about the feats of occupi.
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Old 11-02-2005, 09:23 PM   #3
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Depot used to jump out of the water for food but I haven't had her do it for a while. She seems to be able to recognize me as the one who feeds her and my roommate as just another person who doesn't feed her. If I turn music on she will swim to the side of the tank that the radio is closest to. She knows that during her weekly water changes or whenever I am cleaning the tank that she must swim in the net and wait for me to put it in the holding tank then swim out. She seems to trust me with this and doesn't struggle. She shows lots of intelligence signs. She's a common goldfish.
The bettas can make their way through mazes. I am amazed at how tightly bonded my female bettas are. Nobody should put intelligence past a fish just because they are different.
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Old 11-02-2005, 09:47 PM   #4
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DepotFish,

How old is Depot? It would seem to me that some of the behaviors she exhibits are quite sophisticated, and might not be possible for a very young and immature fish.

Have you (or anyone else) seen a correlation between the size/age of fish and the intelligent behavior they exhibit?
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Old 11-03-2005, 10:48 AM   #5
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She's four and I've had her since she was a few months old. She learned to jump for food soon after I got her because I worked with her a lot to get her to do this. The swimming into the net thing is probably because she had a two gallon tank as a small fish so water changes were routine. I'm sure age has to do with her behavior as she has learned it over time, I'm not sure what you mean by size though, Depot's kind of a runt.
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Old 11-03-2005, 02:13 PM   #6
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this is toooo funny! i LOVE it! how big is albert's tank? it looks small on the webcam...
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Old 11-03-2005, 06:41 PM   #7
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its not a fresh water fish but my percula clown is immensly intelligent. he studies me as much as I study him.
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Old 11-03-2005, 08:13 PM   #8
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Depotfish,

I guess number of brain cells may be independent of physical size, but I have the feeling that small fish - either small species (e.g. tetras) or young, and hence small members of larger species (like young goldfish) will have more trouble learning than their larger, more mature counterparts.

This is just a hunch though, based on limited experience with human children (who obviously have more difficulty learning than older humans) and young goldfish (school fair size) vs Albert, who was estimated to be about 3 years old by the fish store expert where I bought him.
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Old 11-03-2005, 08:21 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by crazycat
this is toooo funny! i LOVE it! how big is albert's tank? it looks small on the webcam...
Cool. You checked out Albert's webcam! I've seen that here has been quite a few hits. For anyone else who wants to check him out, here is the link again:

http://fishschool.ww.com

[But don't bother looking until around 10am eastern time tomorrow, when he goes "live" again].

Regarding Alberts "show tank" size as seen on the webcam - yes, you are correct. It is rather small - 5 gal. It is easier to train him in a smaller tank - less distractions. The "home tank" where he spends most of his time is larger (10gal) and will soon be upgraded to a 29gal or 55gal, like the tank my son has at home for our twin albino oscars.

P.S. Anyone who does check out Albert's webcam, please click on the feedback link and tell me what you think, or post here about it.

Thanks!
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Old 11-03-2005, 08:21 PM   #10
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Octopi are definitely one of the fastest learners on the planet, they have to be since they live only about ayear, but they aren't fish lol.

Fish are definitely smart in some ways. Simple stuff like swimming the length of a tank is easily forgotten. Some person had pacus in a 3 fot long tank, they then put them in a 6 foot long tank and would only swim 3 feet across and go back. But after about 2 minutes they would start to forget and swim the whole distance.

But stuff like seeing aperson over time is imprinted in there brain. My clownfish adn lionfish dont like other people, they only like me and my cousin. Because they see both of us alot. I feed them so they associate me with food. My clown eats out of my hand, my lion waits at the top of the tank in a specific corner and if i tries i could handfeed it, but I dont want to get stung lol.

My other cousins oscar will swim up to the glass, when you open your mouth it opes its mouths. it does a lot of things lol.
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