Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Japanese Synchronized Goldfish - Real or Fake?

Having a reputation as an expert on fish intelligence and training, I'm occasionally asked to for my opinion. Such was the case recently when a reader emailed me to settle a wager she had with a friend about the widely viewed Synchronized Goldfish Video from Japan. She thought it was real, but her friend thought it was a fraud. Here is the video, so you can see it for yourself:



I told her I can't be sure - if it is a fake, someone went to a lot of trouble to make it. And it certainly is fun to watch!

But in the end, I told her if I had to bet money myself, I'd have to side with her friend, believing the video is some kind of fraud. Some species of fish naturally swim in formation (called schools - duh!) but anyone whose ever seen a crowded tank of goldfish knows, goldfish aren't one of those schooling species.

The fish in the video are just TOO synchronized, even when spread over significant distance and not looking at each other. The frequent disconnect between the motions of the 'trainer' and the fishes movement clearly shows his hand signals are irrelevant to the behavior.

If I had to guess, I'd say there is probably something going on under the table (literally). Perhaps moving magnets that the fish can sense. I hesitate to suggest it, but if the fish were forced to swallow tiny but powerful rare earth magnets, their motion could be directed or even controlled by other moving magnets under the table. The fact that the fish don't appear to be using their tail sto swim at times during the video supports this rather cruel hypothesis.

On the other hand, if it is legitimate, I humbly apologize to the trainer - it must have taken a LOT of time to get the fish to be so coordinated. Having spent lots of time teaching individual goldfish to exhibit amazing behavior, I can only imagine how long it would take to train a group of them!

--Dean

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