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

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