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Publisher's Summary

An underwater exploration that overturns myths about fishes and reveals their complex lives, from tool use to social behavior.

There are more than 30,000 species of fish - more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined. But for all their breathtaking diversity and beauty, we rarely consider how fish think, feel, and behave.

In What a Fish Knows, ethologist Jonathan Balcombe takes us under the sea and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal what fishes can do, how they do it, and why. Introducing the latest revelations in animal behavior and biology, Balcombe upends our assumptions about fish, exposing them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed creatures but as sentient, aware, social - even Machiavellian. They conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, punish wrongdoers, curry favor, and deceive one another. Fish possess sophisticated senses that rival our own. The reef-dwelling damselfish identifies its brethren by face patterns visible only in ultraviolet light, and some species communicate among themselves in murky waters using electric signals.

Highlighting these breakthrough discoveries and others from his own encounters with fish, Balcombe inspires a more enlightened appraisal of marine life. An illuminating journey into the world of underwater science, What a Fish Knows will forever change your view of our aquatic cousins - your pet goldfish included.

©2016 Jonathan Balcombe (P)2016 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Preachy towards the end

If you could sum up What a Fish Knows in three words, what would they be?

Interesting.Surprising.Agenda

If you’ve listened to books by Jonathan Balcombe before, how does this one compare?

I have not

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

From the makers of Blackfish...

Any additional comments?

Overall this was a decent listen and I did learn quite a bit about fish but the fact that the author comes from an animal rights agenda angle kind of takes away from the neutral science feel of the book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Engaging and Fascinating

I'm glad I purchased and listened to the book. I will now defer to any ichthyologist.

I came to see what fishes knew - perhaps they had already answered the Greatest of Life's Great Questions (that of "Why Bother?") (the ultimate answer being "because consciousness is a good thing"), and had already restructured philosophy and developed an overall life-guiding philosophy (like I have), where I could compare my resulting Ultimate Core Value (derived after restructuring philosophy) (and that value being higher consciousness - that which humans currently have) and the resulting Ultimate Core Goal (that of securing higher consciousness in a harsh and deadly universe) with what they, the fishes, had themselves philosophically arrived at under the sea...

Failing that, I came to the book to increase my understanding of other species, since they are all potential future higher consciousnesses (imaging a world where we educate other species rather than eat them), and to see what their present states are in terms of cognitive abilities (perhaps they can already proactively seek-out ever-broader threats/benefits to life in the universe and proactively develop solutions/implementations (rather than relying on external stimuli to act - when it may be too late by then), like we can - though no one is enlightened enough to actually spend time and energy on such broad and far-ranging concerns yet).

What the book does offer is a summary of the findings to date on many aquatic species concerning many areas of cognition and behavior, along with presenting their underlying experiments, which stand on their own as fascinating tales and anecdotes. So the book is presented in a repeating two-part structure - current findings and the source experiments. The book will keep anyone new to the field fully engaged, and the book is probably best for people new to fish cognition and behavior.

Back to engaging - the narrator, when covering the initial broad concepts in the first chapter, will make your mind wander (perhaps it is his trailing tone of voice in that chapter when covering broad concepts) (though for me such wandering is always an entertaining prospect) - yet I, and most likely you, will not hear most of what was said in that first chapter, and you will have to listen to it many times as your mind wanders less and less and you 'catch' more and more (and this illustrates why 'talking' and 'thinking' do not go together well). Later chapters do not have this hazard - they deal with concrete fish behavior scenarios and specific experiments, which easily retain your attention, since they are so fascinating (for a person new to the field) and are easy to mentally visualize.

So the book will leave the reader with a more comprehensive sense of where these other species currently are cognitively, behaviorally, and individually (and for me, how far they have to go to reach higher (proactive) consciousness), and what these other species already have to offer in terms of Diversity (which is a critical part of increasing the odds of survival in a harsh universe, the others being numbers, proactive action, and dispersal).

The book presents a lot of good science, and no philosophizing or making comparisons to humans (which would have diluted the book's factual nature) other than to get us to value other species more (using the array of underwater creatures covered as example species). Curious was the experiment where a fish species out-performed various primate species, and a four-year old child, and you will love the underwater semi-sex scene, where the fish all gathered around the two humans in a circle to watch, all shimmering in voyeurism (they say animals have extreme empathy)...







7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Title misled me

I was expecting an exploration of current scientific knowledge on fishes, and there is some of that. However, a good one third of the book is a sort PETA-ish polemic on the rights of animals. Don't get me wrong; I definitely see that there are horrible problems with the way we currently deal with our oceans and lakes and the treasures of life that they contain. I just wasn't crazy about being told once again how much damage we are doing.

I give books three stars when I feel they are interesting enough to listen to the end. Neither the writing nor the narration made it something I looked forward to getting back to.

IF you too are looking for more science I would HIGHLY recommend Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus or The Secret Life of Lobsters.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Fish Know Much More Than We Thought.

I'm not sure I can completely buy into the subtitle of this book: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, but Jonathan Balcombe gives the reader plenty of reasons why What a Fish Knows is much more than we have previously thought. From frillfins exhibiting that they are able to form memories of tide pool layouts and recall them to avoid predators, to tool use by the orange-dotted tusk fish, and so many more species, the author presents a myriad of elegantly designed studies and interesting evidence to show that we have been underestimating fish. He examines their senses, intelligence, family and social lives, along with many reasons why we should no longer think of them as “just fish”. Their ability to receive and perceive visual information from above the water level and below it at the same time is fascinating to me, and something I would like to better understand on a neurological level, along with the lateral lines of the bony fish that allow them to sense water pressure. Fish comprise approximately 60% of all vertebrates, and there are more than 30,000 species of fish, and Balcombe argues that we should consider all of them as worthy and sentient individuals. The chapter on piscine feelings (From Stress to Joy) began to sound a bit unscientific to me, but the author presents intriguing information in the rest of the book in such an entertaining way that I will most likely re-read this wonderful book.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Pb
  • 02-03-17

This should be a required read for all anglers.

Science based discussion of the biological reality of fish. I enjoyed it and learned a lot.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fish have feelings too 101

I'm really glad to have this book as part of my animal advocacy tool box. At first I found the audio on the performance not too good as all the s sounds were really harsh. However, that seemed to correct later in the piece. I feel like it was a technical issue, not a narrator issue.
I would recommend this to someone who is interested in the subject.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great Book on the Lives of Fish

On the whole, I loved this book. It provides great insight and information on fish in a very user-friendly manner. It blends together scientific information on the lives of fish with a true feeling for the organisms. I had hoped for more on how behaviours relate to their environment, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn more about their cognitive and emotional lives. The author makes no secret about his passion for these animals, and he makes a passionate argument for their inclusion in our moral circle. My only criticism is that at times, that passion becomes overwhelming, blurring what should be a clear boundary between science and emotion-based arguments.

Strongly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about fish in general, or who want to understand them in relation to their other vertebrate cousins, including us.

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good

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of good info included here. Too many simply repeat common knowledge just so that Joe Blow can get a publication out there. Not saying its 100%, but praise worthy. Yes, good info does seem to come with it's share of tree-huggin' guilt doesn't it?

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Eye opening book enlightening us to the obvious

Although my personal experience with fish from childhood is by keeping hundreds in glass boxes, as a child I knew many of my fish-friends as individuals. They had preferences and personalities. Even conspecifics differed in how gregarious or timid each individual was. Some would follow me around their little prisons while others fled.
But this book enlightens the reader as to how this is not unique to some fish but to many, if not all fishes.

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Must read !

If you love the ocean , animals , science , or want to be able to answer your child's questions about your goldfish. This is a must read.