Ask the Aquarium: Festival of the Fishes

Bristol Aquarium is a centre for education, leisure and entertainment. Visitors are inspired by a whole range of things on a visit and drop questions to us in a box so we thought it was important to share a selection of these answers with everyone.

Bristol is famous for hosting a wide range of festivals throughout the Summer so we’re celebrating fish great and small in our very own FESTIVAL OF THE FISHES!

Our visitors have been dropping some fishy questions into our Ask the Aquarium box so we’ll explore some of these in this edition!

Ryan age 9 asks us, “do fish have a spine?”

This is a really interesting question! Fish come under two distinctly different subgroups which include ‘bony fish’ which are your typical fish and ‘cartilaginous fish’ which include sharks, rays and chimaeras.

Your typical fish has a skeleton similar to ours made out of bones ranging from the skull in its head, a spinal column of vertebrae running along its body and then its ribs coming off its spine to support its body. Cartilaginous fish such as our sharks and rays are slightly different in that their skeletal structure is made out of cartilage (the same tough material from your nose and your ears!). Sharks and rays do have a spinal cord which relays information from their brain along their nervous system however their cords are surrounded by only cartilage instead of bone as well.

Short answer, yes they do but not all of them are bony!

Minnie Barber age 10 asks us, “why do some of the fish spit stuff?”

On a trip to the aquarium you may notice some of the fish spitting out bits of stones and substrate but why do they do this? What they are doing is a behaviour called filter feeding. Filter feeders take in volumes of water and sometimes substrate, allowing them to catch smaller prey such as plankton, before expelling filtered water back out. This process clarifies the water and so this behaviour plays a vital role in the underwater environment.

Our Oceanic Sweetlips, Bruce (pictured below) is one of our greedier fish and can often be seen grabbing mouthfuls of stones and spitting them out over our just-cleaned underwater tunnel! He will be searching for bits of food along the bottom of the display and getting rid of the bits he doesn’t want to eat.

You may also have spotted our Archer Fish spitting too! These fish have the incredible ability to spit out jets of water to low hanging branches so they can knock off insects into the water!
This Summer during our Festival of the Fishes you can find out more about these amazing fish on our themed Circus Weekends as well as taking part in a water game challenge to try being an Archer Fish!

Caleb age 24 asks us, “do fish actually have short memories?”

This one is a myth! There have been several studies looking into the anatomy and physiology of fish and we can observe complex brain structures that are necessary for memory, however one way of knowing for sure is by conducting behavioural studies.

Scientists Boaz Zion, Ilan Karplus and Assaf Baraki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology studied fish learning and memory using underwater sounds. During training, sounds were played at the same time as food was given to create an association between the two stimuli. The trained fish were released into the sea and after a few months they were called back using the same sounds. This shows us that fish are capable of retaining information from their surroundings and remember them later on.

Whilst the above study also identified that the fish were unable to remember the stimulus after a long period of time, it does show us that fish have a longer memory than the three seconds that we give them a reputation for! There are so many studies on fish behaviour and we could write a whole blog post on that (and I’m sure we will!) but it’s definitely worth having a read online about these amazing creatures.

 

Come along to our Festival of the Fishes event this Summer and find out all about the wonderful creatures that call the sea their home.

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