Thinking, Sensing, and Feeling Like a Fish
Question: What kinds of sea life are\r\nparticularly intelligent?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Sylvia\r\nEarle: Young things\r\ngenerally tend to be curious, especially those that have something you \r\ncan\r\nreally get your mind around, say, "Those creatures have brains." They have enough of a concentration of\r\nnerve cells that they can have a reaction to things. They\r\n might even anticipate danger and react\r\naccordingly.
Do they dream? Do they \r\nanticipate the future or\r\nreflect on the past the way humans do? \r\nWell we’re still trying to figure that out. I’m\r\n convinced that other creatures, many other creatures\r\nhave more going for them in terms of intelligence and reasoning capacity\r\n than\r\nwe give them credit for. I’m\r\nconfident that dolphins and whales have a level of intelligence in some \r\ncases\r\nthat we wish we had. We don’t\r\nthink about sperm whales. They\r\nhave the biggest brain on the planet. \r\nThey have closely knit societies. \r\nThey do things that we don’t know why they do them. \r\n We see them doing group behavior,\r\ngetting together in a circle that some have designated a margarita \r\nformation because\r\nit’s a bit like the glass that a margarita is served in. \r\n Like a flower with a narrow base to it,\r\nthey all on some signal get together and dive down all at once. To do what or why? We’re not smart\r\nenough yet to figure it out. We’re\r\nnot sperm whales, but that they do and that they can hold their breath \r\nfor an\r\nhour and find food that they engage, big squid, that they travel over \r\nthousands\r\nof miles with no roadmap, go back to the same place time and time again,\r\nthere are things that I wish we had inherit in our capacity. Or to be a tuna fish for heaven’s sakes\r\nthat travel over thousands of miles and come back to the same place. To \r\nhave\r\nchemoreceptors. We can smell, that\r\n is a kind of chemoreception. But\r\nto have a face that has taste buds that extend around up over your whole\r\n face\r\nthe way many fish do or to be able to sense as sharks do, an electrical\r\nfield. All creatures have some\r\nkind of an electrical field around them. \r\nWe do. Fish do. Lobsters\r\n do, but to be able to sense\r\nit, to know that they’re there, maybe we do have some primitive or \r\nshadow effect that gives us some sense of where we are in relation to \r\nother things,\r\nbut sharks really have it. That’s\r\nhow they find food at night. You\r\ncan’t see, but they can sense where they are.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
The lateral line down many bony fishes that enable \r\nthem to\r\nsense—we think... we don’t know... we\r\n don’t have a lateral line—but we\r\nspeculate that it enables them to sense movement, so you get these tight\r\nformations of fish that look as though they’re moving as one fish. They are so close. It’s like \r\nthe Blue Angels, but times a\r\nthousand because they move like this, like streams of silver made of \r\n10,000\r\nlittle pieces that move as if they’re just all coordinated on wires, but\r\nthey’re not. They’re\r\nindependent. If only we could feel\r\nwhat they feel and see what they see. \r\nTo have the eyes of some of the deep sea fish that are \r\nexquisitely\r\ndeveloped to be able to see in low light levels with receptors and \r\nthings that\r\nglow like a cat’s eye or a dog’s eye that sense the tiniest amount of\r\nlight. When we get to 1,000 feet\r\nin the sea—even in high noon, the broadest daylight and the clearest \r\nocean\r\nwater at 1,000 feet—you can still barely make out shapes and forms, but \r\nbeyond\r\nthat it is really dark to our sensors. But to a fish, to these deep sea \r\nfish\r\nfor them they can see like a cat can see at night, only much more\r\nsensitive. It’s because many of\r\nthese are tuned to sense bioluminescent light, the firefly kind of light\r\n that\r\ncharacterizes most of the ocean. \r\nYou get below 1,000 feet it’s dark, but there are these little \r\nlights\r\nthat flash and sparkle and glow. It’s\r\nlike diving into a galaxy. Even\r\nour eyes pick up the light, but these creatures that have enhanced \r\nlight-gathering capacity it’s like having night vision goggles, like \r\nSilence of the\r\nLambs. There you are. You \r\ncan see. Nobody else can see. \r\nThese fish have the capacity to see what we can’t see, so they \r\nhave\r\ngifts.
Recorded April 14th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen
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