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Australia Science

Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools 118

Posted by timothy
from the wake-me-when-they-enter-asynchronous-trade dept.
sciencehabit writes with this excerpt from Science: "While exploring Australia's Great Barrier Reef, professional diver Scott Gardner heard an odd cracking sound and swam over to investigate. What he found was a footlong blackspot tuskfish holding a clam in its mouth and whacking it against a rock. Soon the shell gave way, and the fish gobbled up the bivalve, spat out the shell fragments, and swam off. Fortunately, Gardner had a camera handy and snapped what seem to be the first photographs of a wild fish using a tool." (Not everyone agrees that this constitutes tool use, says the article, in part because the "tool" isn't something that the fish can actually manipulate.)
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Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:07AM (#36711474)

    I for one welcome our new fish overlords.

  • by mortonda (5175) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:09AM (#36711484)

    Isn't every camera technically a tool? Diver have used cameras all the time!

    Oohhh, the fish using a tool. :P

    • Isn't every camera technically a tool? Diver have used cameras all the time!

      Oohhh, the fish using a tool. :P

      Yup, the fish was using the diver as a tool for publicity shots...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is why the usage of brackets in sentences (or in this case phrases) should be commonly acceptable. That, or we need ways of communicating unambiguously.
    • by pjt33 (739471)

      I misread it in a different way, and found it hard to believe that no-one had previously taken a photo of fish.

    • by not_surt (1293182)
      I misread it as a number of tools which were autonomously using fish in some manner. I do hear that fish oil makes quite a good lubricant.
  • Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools

    A camera?

    • If you see the headline as being ambiguous, how would you rewrite it to remove the ambiguity?
      • Re:Um (Score:4, Informative)

        by pjt33 (739471) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @04:05PM (#36713724)

        First photo evidence of tool-using fish

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          i think there is already photo evidence of tools, and how do you get photo evidence by using a fish anyway?

      • by Inschato (1350323)
        Diver Snaps First Photo of a Fish Using a Tool
        • If there was ambiguity before (and I'm not saying there was), your suggestion does nothing to remove it. It could still be describing a situation where the diver's camera is (for some reason) being pointed out as a tool.

          My point was that not only is the perceived ambiguity stupid but that there's almost no way to completely solve it. Language can be ambiguous at times, and there's not a whole lot anyone can do about it. Get over it.

  • by atari2600a (1892574) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:12AM (#36711500)
    That whole scene with the monkeys is gonna need some MAJOR rewriting...
  • IIRC I've read (several years ago) about a fish that uses a leaf as cover to avoid being seen/caught by for example hungry birds (was it in south america? Amazonas?). But then again, I don't know if this either can be categorized as tool use. I mean, swimming under something isn't that difficult...
    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Did they just hide under the cover, or would the push the cover in the direction they wanted to go?
      • by zyche (784345)
        Sorry, I either don't remember or the article didn't say. And a quick googling didn't give any references...
      • If it picked it up and used it like an umbrella that would be impressive!

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          I'm more thinking that the it would hold the stem in its mouth, and drag it along the surface above it as it swam around.
        • by Plunky (929104)

          during an Agean cruise last summer, I saw at many many places that sea urchins would manipulate bits of weed or anything else they could find to a position above their bodies, presumably to shelter from the sun during the heat of the day.. (in water less than 3m). I didn't take any pictures though, so I guess this diver gets to keep his prize..

        • by hawk (1151)

          Nah, it could never operate the mechanism to collapse the umbrella with fins . . . :)

          Hawk

    • by Nursie (632944)

      I'm not really sure that whacking a shellfish against a rock is tool use, nor swimming under stuff.

      I was going to bring up the octopus that use coconut shells as cover, but they aren't fish!

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:21AM (#36711570)

    (hint, its in the elephant's trousers)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ask my wife

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:44AM (#36711734)

    Fish should begin receiving catalogs from Harbor Freight in the mail any day now.

  • I don't get it... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sirwired (27582) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @11:45AM (#36711742)

    A fish beat the crap out of a clam by hitting it against a rock? I'm not quite sure this qualifies as "tool" use. Now, grabbing the rock, and beating clam with it, or using it to pry open the clam... that would sound more "tool-like."

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Dyinobal (1427207)
      He's still using the rock as a tool either way. By either banging the clam on it, or by banging the clam with the rock. If you want to argue over such a minor detail you're welcome to but I'm not about to.
      • by mmmmbeer (107215)

        If you want to argue over such a minor detail you're welcome to but I'm not about to.

        And yet you just did.

      • by Tasha26 (1613349)
        he was flossing his teeth, give him a break.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        It makes a difference. If we accept that acting against the natural environment qualifies as tool-use, then walking is an example of tool use, since you're using the ground in order to propel yourself. If your definition of tool use is that broad, you end up with all kinds of absurdities.

        • (just using wikipedia, because I'm that lazy:)

          An object that has been modified to fit a purpose' or 'An inanimate object that one uses or modifies in some way to cause a change in the environment, thereby facilitating one's achievement of a target goal'.
          —Hauser, 2000
          an object carried or maintained for future use
          —Finn, Tregenza, and Norman, 2009.

          The fish deliberately uses the rock to change the clam from an unopened to an opened state. This allows it to eat the clam, which was presumably the fish's 'target goal,' and thereby satisfies the first definition. The fish also had to carry the unopened clam, expecting that it would be able to open the clam to access its contents. This demonstrates future planning and satisfies the second definition of a "tool." In either case the fish seems to have recognized

          • by Ocker3 (1232550)
            The article talks about controversy as to whether this is Tool use, but the original researcher says that most tool definitions that require that the tool be movable (a rock used to open a hard nut for example) don't allow for the fact that moving a rock through water is usually quite slow, and the fact that fish don't have prehensile fins, only their mouths. For a fish, whacking something against something else to get it open is probably quite up there on the scale of advanced thinking. If a fish tries to
    • by melikamp (631205) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @12:22PM (#36712038) Homepage Journal
      Actually, the fish was sculpting the rock with a clam, but then the clam broke and the fish got distracted. Not merely an instance of tool use, this is clearly an attempt at creating an enduring cultural artifact.
      • by Ocker3 (1232550)
        Perhaps the midden piles are evidence of crowd-sourcing. The fish know that using clams to create sculptures is a long and gruelling process, so they get their friends and other strangers to help out. They leave the shells there as a marker, so other people know that this is part of the species-wide effort to build a sculpture in an effort to communicate with the humans and try to get them to stop eating all the really tasty fish, and leaving nothing good for anyone else. Seriously man, why are those humans
      • by idlehanz (1262698)
        If the diver hadn't interuppted the fish we might have been able to see what it was creating,
    • I'd say banging X with a hammer and banging X onto an anvil are functionally equivalent.

      It's a matter of practicality; you generally move whichever weighs less.

      • by Tynin (634655)

        It's a matter of practicality; you generally move whichever weighs less.

        (Totally offtopic) Generally yes you do move which ever weights less, however there are times when moving the one that weighs more can win you a bet.

        Back in another life I would do a little carpentry work to make ends meet. On every new job I went, I could always find someone who would take me up on the bet of me being able to put a nail all the way into a 2x4 without needing to use a hammer of any sort, the only things I would use were a nail, a 2x4, and my hands. The trick is putting the nail point up on

        • You didn't fulfill the bet. You used an extra object - the thing you were resting the nail on ;-)

          Even Archimedes needed a place to put his fulcrum...

      • (a) they're artifacts and (b) they're used either by bringing the stuff to be hammered to them or moving them to the stuff to be hammered.

        That the tuskfish may bring the clams to the rocks from other locations to be opened on the rocks speaks to the rocks intentionally being used by tools. But if it turns out that the rocks just happen to be convenience, that suggests that it may not be intentional tool use, e.g. the tuskfish may bang the clams against all surfaces and just happen to notice the sound when h

    • by SPrintF (95561)

      Not so. IIRC, the young Richard Feynman (tool-using primate and smarter than the average bear) solved the problem of cutting string beans by jamming the knife in the kitchen table and pushing the beans against the stationary blade, rather than laboriously holding the beans with one hand and cutting with the other.

    • by meerling (1487879)
      I've always been under the impression that a 'tool' has to be either intentionally modified for the intended task (like stripping the leaves off a twig) or selected for some very specific set of properties (a rock of a specific size and weight that is easily held and can be used to pound something).
      Seems to me there are very possibly fish out there somewhere that actually use tools, but banging a clam against the reef just doesn't seem to qualify.

      I also don't consider spitting tool using either, so rays get
      • by jc42 (318812)

        It seems to me that similar arguments against this fish's "tool use" could also be used (perhaps by a visiting alien, or maybe a human from a "superior" culture) to argue that I'm not a tool user.

        Thus, I drove to several places in my car today. But I didn't manufacture the car; I merely used it to accomplish a task. If a tool must be manufactured (or "intentionally modified") by its user to qualify as a tool, then my car probably wouldn't be considered a tool by someone intent on showing that I'm not i

        • by bingoUV (1066850)

          So what is the problem? Driving a car and drinking from a straw are not "tool use (TM)" then. Once something is defined in a certain way, it is worth it to stick to that definition. Why must your every activity classify as tool-use under every definition to boost your fragile self-worth?

          Aren't you capable of sharpening your pencil when it loses its point? Tool use. Filling gas in your car's gas tank to be able to drive it? Tool use. Uncorking a bottle to drink using a cork-screw / bottle opener? Tool use. I

    • A fish beat the crap out of a clam by hitting it against a rock? I'm not quite sure this qualifies as "tool" use. Now, grabbing the rock, and beating clam with it, or using it to pry open the clam... that would sound more "tool-like."

      I agree that calling this tool use is stretching matters. I live in coastal BC, and it is a quite common sight to see seagulls on the beach grabbing a clam or oyster, flying straight up to about 30 ft and dropping it in order to break it open, repeating as necessary. I have never heard this classified as "tool use", even though it adds an extra element to what the fish does; i.e, in addition to the clam, the stationary object (rock/ground), and the animal's own strength and energy, the gull is also utiliz

    • >> "A fish beat the crap out of a clam by hitting it against a rock? I'm not quite sure this qualifies as "tool" use. Now, grabbing the rock, and beating clam with it, or using it to pry open the clam... that would sound more "tool-like.""

      From: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=tool [thefreedictionary.com] [thefreedictionary.com]

      "4. Something used in the performance of an operation; an instrument: ..."
      or
      "4. (Engineering / Tools) anything used as a means of performing an operation or achieving an end ..."

      Show me

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      A fish beat the crap out of a clam by hitting it against a rock? I'm not quite sure this qualifies as "tool" use. Now, grabbing the rock, and beating clam with it, or using it to pry open the clam... that would sound more "tool-like."

      What you suggest would not be a sign of even proto-intelligence.

      Have you ever tried to swing a hammer under water, while holding the hammer with your mount only? Neither had I, I'm not that stupid.

    • Traditionally, paleoanthropologists have defined "tool" to mean something that was modified in order to accomplish a task. To me this seems to be a more useful definition than defining a tool as an object that is used to accomplish a task. The intentional modification of an object to make it more useful for a particular task is a category of thought further than using a found object to accomplish a task.
      Those who use the fact that most of us do not actually make the tools we use are overlooking the fact th
  • if only they had lasers!!
  • it's a sort of 2001 moment, right?
    • by meerling (1487879)
      Not even close. The fish in no way modified the rock or chose a rock based on specific attributes that uniquely qualify it for the task at hand. It just banged it against the nearest rock, not a difficult feat in a reef. If that's all it takes to call it tool use, then digging a nest or hiding in a crevice qualifies as tool use.
  • that is all

  • by nickovs (115935) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @12:15PM (#36711984)

    I'm still waiting for the photo of the fish on the bicycle so that I an get back to my ex about all those presents she claimed weren't useful...

  • by blackraven14250 (902843) on Sunday July 10, 2011 @12:30PM (#36712112)
    This is retarded. I have a melanarus wrasse (same family as tusks, Labridae) that, on a regular basis, picks up snails and bashes then against the rocks in the tank or the glass. It's a well known behavior in the reefkeeping community, too, which makes me wonder what kind of research he did before going "First pic!".
    • by adolf (21054)

      Indeed.

      In the freshwater world, I've seen oscars exhibit the same behavior: Grab snail by fleshy portion, and begin bashing it into things until it yields a tasty treat.

      I've had a few different oscars over the years, and they were all similarly adept.

    • by scotjam (1876182)
      The poster specifically mentions that it is the first time it has been captured with respect to *a wild fish*, so your experience isn't really a counter-example. Having said that, if it is observed independently (as opposed to being trained behavior) in captive animals, I guess it is not a huge surprise that it occurs in the wild too.
  • 1) Mankind decides we are special and better than all other creatures.

    2) Man makes list of things that support that belief (language, tools, cultivation, etc.)

    3) Man discovers animals do things on the list (language, tools, cultivation, etc.) [Octopus tool use, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DoWdHOtlrk [youtube.com] ]

    4) Man is amazed that animal has "human quality"

    Dolphins talk, ants take other ant species as slaves, mantis preys. Whatever. Let's just write a new list, like "can program a VCR" and start over

    • by aix tom (902140)

      >Let's just write a new list, like "can program a VCR" and start over.
      Great! 80% of humanity will be dropped into the "sub-human" category and be available as cheap slaves! Perhaps even my boss!

    • by Urkki (668283)

      1) Mankind decides we are special and better than all other creatures.

      Any species is free to make the same decision. Then they can talk to us humans about it, then we'll have a little civilised war for dominance, winner species will exterminate the loser species, and debate is resolved.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      The problem isn't that there is a list. The problem isn't that the list is what it is. The problem is that mankind thinks that these are binary qualities. They are not. Maybe instead of a new list, we could just accept that it is all a shade of gray that includes all animals, plants, matter, energy as well, as maybe a few 'things' we have not yet even discovered. Man isn't special because man has attributes that are on a different scale than everything else. Man is special because of where on the scal
    • by qwak23 (1862090)
      I've always thought number 4 was that Man no longer realizes that He is as special as He thought in number 1. Then again, I can see where many people would probably go with your number 4. I'm pretty sure though that I no longer can program a VCR and must turn in my "Certified Human" badge.
    • Face it, all we Homo Sapiens sapiens have going for us is insanity and abstract thought - and we'll probably only have abstract thought until we can correctly turn recorded brain wave patterns into thoughts, at which point we will discover that the "intelligent" life we have been searching the universe for is already on plant Earth. (Not so sure about insanity either - animals do recreational drugs [huffingtonpost.com])
  • Aaaaand.... there's more to this great revelation, right?

    Anyone ever heard of an aquarium? They are transparent vessels that hold water with the intent of providing habitation for domestic fishes. One of the benefits operating one is you can observe fish building nests out of gravel, plants and stones, interacting with other fishes and, oh my yes, even beating a crayfish on a rock so it will desist pinching the fish's nose. I guess I should have taken a picture and gotten on /. front page.

    • by Asic Eng (193332)

      Where's The Punchline?

      "In the wild." As such it's an interesting observation, and a good picture. However as the primatologist in the article stated: this is not tool use but proto-tool use.

      As for the diver's comments: "One of the problems with the definition of tool use as it currently stands is it's totally written for primates," he says. "You cannot swing a hammer effectively underwater."

      Exactly, that's why tool use underwater would be so interesting. Didn't happen, though.

  • Not everyone agrees that this constitutes tool use, says the article, in part because the "tool" isn't something that the fish can actually manipulate.

    Otters whack shellfish against rocks they put on their stomachs while they float on the surface. They have hands to carry the rock around and need to breath air. Fish don't have hands but can breath underwater. Seems like the fish adapted. What would you do without arms and legs?

    • by wen (35796)

      If only they had opposable fins... they could pick up tools. And serve us, we could enslave them... they would revolt and enslave us.. Planet of the Fish... I have to stop, this is too scary.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Not everyone agrees that this constitutes tool use, says the article, in part because the "tool" isn't something that the fish can actually manipulate.

      Otters whack shellfish against rocks they put on their stomachs while they float on the surface. They have hands to carry the rock around and need to breath air. Fish don't have hands but can breath underwater. Seems like the fish adapted. What would you do without arms and legs?

      I'd download an iPhone app (there is an app for that, isn't it?)

  • Am I the only one wondering who the Tools are that are using the fish?
  • At least we know now, that if we finally wipe our kind out somehow (nuclear war, disaster, climate change, etc), the planet has capable candidates to take over our place, rule the planet, and somehow destroy it again at one point. Cool. Well, as far as we have oceans left that are habitable.

    More about the article: isn't the spitting fish using a tool to catch airborne prey? Water balls? (or is it fish spit technically?)

  • ... implies artificiality. Tools are not simply used. They are also made in the first place. This does not necessarily require sophisticated manufacturing techniques to be available, but it would require that an object have been refined in some way from its natural condition (sharpened, bent, or what have you) so that it is more suited for a purpose than what it would have been naturally.

    So a randomly found stick on the ground being used as a back scratcher would not be a tool, but a stick that was artificially modified from its original condition (either explicitly removed from the tree, or one that was found, but specifically pruned so that excess branches and leaves are removed, for instance, to make it more usable) would.

  • Is there a video clip? I want to see it in action!

  • by hesaigo999ca (786966) on Monday July 11, 2011 @10:36AM (#36720244) Homepage Journal

    intelligence to any degree should be respected, especially in animals.....as we make this world barren to other species, it is sad to see there is plenty of intelligent life out there, and that even if you consider the fact that memory is needed to remember this technique (citing that fish do have memory) and that intelligence is needed to know when enough cracking has been made to get through....and not just keep cracking away infinitely....i am impressed at life in general, and appalled by our fingerprint on this world as it destroys all these intelligent creatures ....

  • Anvil is a tool as well, right?

    It matters if you use it or not, not that how you use it.

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