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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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Eddie Placencia on 03-09-17

Preachy towards the end

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


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.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By wbiro on 07-14-16

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)...

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7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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