Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognise the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water? In What a Fish Knows the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian in other words, much like us.
What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favour, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.
Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean.
Teeming with insights and exciting discoveries, What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet's increasingly imperiled marine life. What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins the pet goldfish included."
Please note: the difference between the £12.99 and £9.99 paperback version is that the former is a trade paperback, whereas the latter is a mass-market paperback (also see this entry on Wikipedia for the difference between the two).
Jonathan Balcombe is the director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy and the author of four books, including Second Nature and Pleasurable Kingdom. A popular commentator, he has appeared on The Diane Rehm Show, the BBC, and the National Geographic Channel, and in several documentaries, and is a contributor of features and opinions to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Nature, and other publications. He lives in Maryland.
"As cogent, salutary and substantial a study of piscine behaviour as I have read in years [...] This is a book full of wonders."
– Literary Review
"'Eye-opening [...] What a Fish Knows is far more than a mass of would-you-believe-it facts, marvellously entertaining though they are [...] passionate and persuasive."
– Sunday Times
"Surprisingly, this compelling book is the first ever published that is devoted to fish behaviour."
– Forbes, 10 Best Popular Science Books of 2016
"An extended exploration of the world from a piscine perspective [...] Balcombe makes a persuasive case that what fish know is quite a lot."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, New York Review of Books
"What a Fish Knows will leave you humbled, thrilled, and floored. Jonathan Balcombe delivers a revelation on every page, presenting jaw-dropping studies and stories that should reshape our understanding of, and compassion for, some of the most diverse and successful animals who have ever lived. After reading this, you will never be able to deny that fishes love their lives as we love ours, and that they, too, are vividly emotional, intelligent, and conscious. Bravo!"
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, a National Book Award finalist
"We Buddhists consider all animals, including fish, as sentient beings who have feelings of joy and pain just as we humans do. We also believe that they have all been kind to us as our mothers many times in the past, and are deserving of our compassion. Therefore, we try to help them in whatever way we can and at least avoid doing them harm. In What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe vividly shows that fish have feelings and deserve consideration and protection like other sentient beings. I hope reading it will help people become more aware of the benefits of vegetarianism and the need to treat animals with respect."
– The Dalai Lama
"[A] sparkling exposition on 'our underwater cousins' [...] [and] a compelling pitch for greatly expanding fish conservation."
– Ray Olson, Booklist
"As ethologist Jonathan Balcombe notes in this engrossing study, breakthroughs are revealing sophisticated piscine behaviours. Balcombe glides from perception and cognition to tool use, pausing at marvels such as ocular migration in flounders and the capacity of the frillfin goby (Bathygobius soporator) to memorize the topography of the intertidal zone."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature
"Balcombe covers the waterfront, so to speak, from fish cognition and perception to their social structures and breeding practices, all the while drawing on a dizzying array of experiments and studies. In the hands of a lesser writer, the sheer weight of material could have overburdened the reader. But Balcombe's prose is lively and clear, showcasing his gift for pithy sentences."
– Eugene Linden, American Scholar
"With the vivacious energy of a cracking good storyteller, Balcombe draws deeply from scientific studies and his own experience with fish to introduce readers to them as sentient creatures that live full lives governed by cognition and perception [...] Balcombe makes a convincing case that fish possess minds and memories, are capable of planning and organizing, and cooperate with one another in webs of social relationships."
– Publishers Weekly
"[Balcombe] offers an enjoyable, surprising and sometimes gruesome exploration of the world of fish, written with clarity and humor and grounded in many scientific studies [...] The breadth and depth of his research and his enthusiastic storytelling may permanently alter how [readers] look at a pet goldfish or a can of sardines."
– Sara Catterall, Shelf Awareness
"I thought I knew a lot about fishes. Then I read What a Fish Knows. And now I know a lot about fishes! Stunning in the way it reveals so many astonishing things about the fishes who populate planet Earth in their trillions, this book is sure to 'deepen' your appreciation for our fin-bearing co-voyagers, the bright strangers whose world we share."
– Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words
"Our fishy ancestors emerged from the watery depths around 400 million years ago, and this beautiful book connects us back to that time."
– David Gruber, Ideas.TED.com, "What Should you read this summer?"
"Based on the latest scientific research, What a Fish Knows offers an eye-opening tour of the social, mental, and emotional lives of fishes. Who knew fishes use tools, appreciate music, fall for the same optical illusions we do, and engage in both cooperative hunting and some very kinky sex? Jonathan Balcombe's book is popular science writing at its best. It will spin your head around."
– Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat
"'Balcombe [...] wants people to care about fish as individuals, to think of them much as we would a pet cat or dog [...] This might sound like a fool's errand. To most people, it probably seems doubtful that a fish has any sort of inner life, much less a rich one. But Mr. Balcombe builds a persuasive argument [...] through a compendium of fascinating anecdotes and scientific findings that illustrate the complexity and creativity of fish behavior. Dozens of startling revelations emerge, including playful marine fish riding bubbles to the top of an aquarium, elephantfish "singing" courtship duets using electric pulses, and parasite-picking cleaner fish engaging in convoluted "economic" interactions with their "clients.""
– Alan de Quieroz, Wall Street Journal
"What a Fish Knows is a delightful and fascinating book that should be read by all who have dismissed fishes, especially the smaller denizens of the ocean, as utterly simple, primitive creatures. Jonathan Balcombe's lively descriptions of fish behavior are backed by solid science. What Carl Safina's Beyond Words did for elephants, wolves, and orcas, Balcombe's book does for fishes. It is a terrific read."
– Wendy Benchley, ocean conservationist and co-founder of the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards
"Fishes are greatly misunderstood and grievously maligned. Now, in What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe uses the latest science to provide a comprehensive picture of just who fishes are. You will learn that fishes have distinct personalities, experience a wide range of emotions, form intricate social relationships, and are wonderful parents. Indeed, this forward-looking and long-overdue book is an integral part of reconnecting with the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent planet."
– Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and Rewilding Our Hearts
"What a Fish Knows is the best book on fishes I have ever read. Brimming with engrossing anecdotes and humor, Jonathan Balcombe's inspiring treatise takes the reader on a fascinating and deeply moving journey into the lives of fishes. Balcombe's eloquent, persuasive, highly readable tour de force has a single, luminous message: Fishes deserve more respect, care, and protection."
– Chris Palmer, author of Shooting in the Wild and Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker