Not many of us would credit the average salmon with advanced problem-solving abilities. Generally speaking we wouldn't expect pilchards to be able to do calculus, and woe betide anyone who asks a haddock to set the timer on their video. But recent research seems to indicate that fish do indeed possess a high level of intelligence.
The earliest investigations into fish intelligence (FI) were carried out at the beginning of the century by George McGrath, a retired physics teacher and part-time fishmonger. He took a sample of five thousand salt and freshwater fish and asked them a series of thirty general knowledge questions. Not one question was answered correctly, although a skate called Dave came very close with a question about the French Revolution.
In his legendary address to the Royal Society For Poking Around With Fishy Things, McGrath concluded that not only are fish stupid, but they are ugly as well. But in the past few years a growing number of scientists have begun to question such a verdict. Dr. Harry Lard of the Atlanta Center for Piscine Studies thinks McGrath's original experiments were seriously flawed.
"I think McGrath's original experiments were seriously flawed," says Lard. "He never took into consideration the question of culture. All he did was ask a lot of stupid questions like who wrote Pygmalion, and who won the FA Cup in 1926. Now fish know nothing about literature and they can't play football, so it's not surprising that none of them got the questions right. It is first necessary to engage a fish's attention; to excite its intellect. I myself have had many conversations with fish, both during the course of my research and socially. We've discussed everything from needlework to nuclear physics, and I never tire of listening to them. Admittedly the pike is not the most erudite conversationalist and the trout has an unreasonable fixation with creosote. Even so, I firmly believe George McGrath was wrong to label fish stupid, although he did have a point about them being ugly. They smell pretty awful too."
Of course, it has been suspected for some time that dolphins are highly intelligent. In 1987 Mensa revealed that thirty percent of its membership were dolphins, although they are very rarely invited to meetings, as they tend to flap about too much and get the floor wet.
But the real breakthrough came last year when the EEC published its report 'Fish and Why They Smell', in which they set forth new standards of piscine equality. This report finally recognises the intelligence not only of fish, but also of marine mammals like dolphins, whales and heavily disguised penguins. It is hoped that this will ultimately lead to new legislation that will stamp out aquatic discrimination once and for all.
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