Fishing Myths Busted – Fish Are Deep Not Shallow

Myths are a part of any subculture. They spread easily, and the more they are repeated, the more they are accepted as fact. It is considered common knowledge that fish have short memories, but anglers are making a mistake if they think fish are too simple. Understanding the species you are trying to catch will only make you a better fisherman. Don’t fall for an old myth that can lead to a fishless day on the water!

goldfish bad memory cartoon

The five second memory myth is engrained in our brains as a fact, but it has been busted in recent years. Fish may not be as intelligent as mammals, but experiments have shown that fish can remember up to five months and have the capacity to learn new skills.

If fish have a strong capacity to learn and are proven to have good memories, then where did this myth come from and why do we still believe it?

  • Bad Comparison

    Scientists think that this observation about fish memories came from a time when an animals' intelligence was measured by how it stacked up against humans. This comparison is unfair and ignores the variety of intelligences found in nature. Fish live in the wild, and like most wild animals, they need to adapt to their environment to survive. If fish really had a five second memory, they would not have the ability to remember important information about food sources and predators. Even goldfish have the capacity to understand what time of day it is and where their food comes from. Next time you feed your fish, see if they recognize their food container. Chances are, they do.

    Two studies conducted by Plymouth University and Technion Institute of Technology tested domestic and wild fish. The first study shows how goldfish have a stronger memory than originally thought. Researchers added a lever to a goldfish tank which released food when touched. Goldfish learned to use this lever to get food. To test their ability to gauge time, the researchers adjusted the lever so that it would only dispense food in a one-hour window. The goldfish learned this and came back at the right time.

    To test wild fish, researchers used sound to train them. During the experiment, fish were played a certain sound while they ate. After these fish were released back in the wild, the researchers came back after five months. They played the sound again, and the fish returned to the ogrinal feeding place!

  • Popular Culture

    Popular culture perpetuates myths in a variety of ways, and has a way of reaffirming things we already believe, no matter how off they are. The popular Pixar movie Finding Nemo features a forgetful and flighty fish: Dory. Even though it’s funny, Dory is sustaining the myth that fish are forgetful.

    forgetful dory meme

    Memes are popular because they express or state something that resonates with most people. Memes have a tendency to spread and reinforce misinformation. Even a simple Google search will show several memes poking fun at goldfish for the ficticious idea that they have short memories.

    forgetful goldfish meme

Myths are hard to bust. The more something is repeated, the less likely it is for people to accept new information as the truth, but it is time we give fish credit for their intelligence.