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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Animal Note: Musical Fish

Air Date: Week of February 8, 2002

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on fish that can classify music by genre.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the surprising fallout from the Chernobyl disaster: the psychological scars of being forced from your home. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.

[THEME MUSIC]

VILLIGER: Fish don't get a lot of credit for being exciting pets. But, after hearing about this bit of new research, you may give the family goldfish a second glance. It turns out that fish called koi, members of the carp family, are quite the little music critics. One scientist set out to investigate just how discriminating their musical ears are. She played snippets of music for three koi named Beauty, Oro, and Pepi. The selections were Blues music by John Lee Hooker, and oboe concertos by Bach.

Photo: Staten Island Advance/Irving Silverstein(Photo courtesy of Coloradokoi.com)

With the incentive of food pellets, the fish learn to tell the difference between the two composers. The fish would press a button with their snouts to ask for food whenever they heard the blues, and swim tranquilly while classical was played. Now, researchers upped the ante, presenting the fish with new tunes by different blues artists and classical composers.

The koi continued to classify the pieces by genre. Now, scientists hope to further investigate exactly what musical qualities the fish were using to classify what they heard. But, so far, experiments suggest that they don't rely on rhythmic cues, timbre or timing. No word yet on which type of music the fish preferred, though Franz Schubert's "Trout" and Muddy Waters were part of the rotation. That's this week's Animal Note, I'm Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Leo Kottke, "One Guitar, No Vocals"]

 

 

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