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September 1997 Vol. 12, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Don't Feed the Fish

from the September, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Trying to communicate feelings of affection, support, or understanding by touching or feeding fish may be philosophically commendable and satisfying to us, but reef fish do not place much value in "bonding" with other species other than by eating them.

Such practices may in fact actually harm the intended "friend." Like corals, reef fishes secrete a protective mucous layer that serves as a barrier to infection and loss of water to the surrounding sea. Disrupting that barrier by touching the fish may subject the animal to increased risk of infection, as well as increased stress in maintaining water balance.

Also, reef fish are surprisingly fast learners as well as opportunistic feeders. Our efforts to befriend them by offering food may lead to lasting behavioral changes that result in increased risk of falling prey themselves, or attempting to use food sources that may be harmful.

William S. Alevizon
Caribbean Reef Ecology

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