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Have you ever peered over at your fish tank and wondered what goes on inside of their tiny minds? What do they experience? What do they perceive?
I am sure that many of you have felt that perhaps your fish may be bored and lacking stimulation. Maybe turning on the TV would help keep them entertained. Sometimes it may appear as though they are watching the TV intently.
You may then begin to wonder if your fish can see the TV, and if they can, do they watch it?
Despite advances in science, it may be nearly impossible to completely mimic and understand an animal’s experience. Even if we grasp how their eyes function, the processing of the images will likely remain a mystery. However, we can make some guesses as to whether a fish can in fact watch TV.
Fish do not watch TV, but the light is visible to them and does stimulate their curiosity. Although fish may be attracted to the source of light emitted by the TV, the way that they visually perceive and mentally process the images will be very different from that of humans.
Let us take a more in-depth look at some of the factors that play a role in why this happens to be the case.
Fish have better vision than one may think. Most tank fish can see a larger array of colors than we can, they can even see ultraviolet light! FIsh have excellent vision over short distances, you can see this when you feed them and how quickly they find and devour the tiny particles of fish food.
However, over longer distances, most tank fish lose depth perception and their vision becomes more distorted relative to ours. This is due to the positioning of the fish’s eyes, as discussed in this article published by ABC news.
Most fish have eyes on either side of their head, this creates what is known as the fisheye view, which is often used as a camera setting to capture a wider field of view.
This is a great adaptation to see more of your surroundings so that you can see predators and prey from the peripheries. But this isn’t great for watching TV. Focussing on a distant TV, the fish will only see a tiny flickering light. TV will only serve as a distraction to the fish when it is swimming around in the tank.
Seeing outside the tank
We have already discussed some physiological reasons surrounding a fish’s ability to watch TV, now let us look at the environmental ones. Can your fish actually see what is going on outside its tank?
The clarity of the water and the surrounding glass affect how effectively the fish can see outside the tank. Algae build-up will greatly decrease the fish’s ability to see the outside world. The light refraction due to the thickness of the glass will also play a role in how distorted the image will appear to the fish.
The fish can see outside the tank and can pick up on the light frequencies emitted from the TV. However, depending on the distance of the TV from the tank, the fish will only be able to make out a small, distorted version of the image that we see. This will likely be seen from the fish’s perspective as a flashing light and nothing more.
Sound and Vibrations
Fish do not hear, but they do pick up on sound due to the vibrations of their inner ear. Fish even have something known as a “lateral line” which allows them to pick up on the vibration caused by water movement. This article by Ocean Conservation Research explains this in more detail.
Although fish are very sensitive to these vibrations, they will not be able to pick up on those made by your television (unless your television is extremely loud and too close to the tank causing it to vibrate).
Is TV good for fish? Do fish enjoy it?
A TV that is too bright, too close, and on for too long can have negative effects on your fish.
Although fish will initially be drawn to the TV out of curiosity, it will likely lead to overstimulation which creates stress for the fish. Fish enjoy visual stimulation, but they get more than enough of that from their fellow fish, as well as the greenery and items in the tank.
One has to remember that a fish tank is trying to recreate a fish’s natural environment, and the unnatural light emitted from the TV is not something that they are accustomed to. Although providing sufficient light to your fish is essential, they need darkness in roughly equal quantities.
A bright TV left on during the evening can deprive your fish of the darkness they need in order to sleep (yes, fish sleep too). The excessive from the TV will also contribute to the growth of algae.
In tanks with a high population density and a lot of environmental stimuli, TV can overstimulate your fish, stressing them out and leading to adverse health effects.
However, under reasonable circumstances, a TV will not harm your fish. They may even be curious about the flashing lights that it emits. But over time, they will lose interest in the TV as they become accustomed to it as just another feature of their environment.