Fish have feelings too
It is hot on the boat ramp at Woollamia, near Jervis Bay on New South Wales’ South Coast. The water shimmers beneath the crowding mangroves, and the air is glassy with the sound of cicadas. Despite the beating sun, Joni Pini-Fitzsimmons, a masters student from Sydney’s Macquarie University, wears only a cap for protection as she stands staring into the shallows.
Pini-Fitzsimmons is here to observe the short-tail stingrays that gather in the inlet. Although they are usually solitary, the rays at Woollamia have begun to develop social behaviours and hierarchies as a response to competition for the refuse that drains from a pipe into the inlet from the fishcleaning table behind the ramp.
Her research suggests – perhaps predictably – that the rays’ hierarchies are largely determined by size, with bigger specimens tending to dominate. (Short-tail stingrays often span more than 2 metres and can weigh up to