So, as it turns out, goldfish have more than three seconds of memory. In fact, their intelligence exceeds the stereotype by a longshot, as scientists have discovered. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have taught several goldfish to drive.
Though we’re not going to start making specialty maritime drivers’ licenses for them, goldfish can apply their navigational senses to land-based travel. The goldfish were placed in small, clear tanks on a moving base; cameras overhead tracked the fishes’ movement, coordinating it with the direction of the tank. If the fish swam in a direction, the tank would move with it.
The scientists trained the fish to drive the cart in the direction of a large pink square in the room in exchange for a food-based reward. Several 30-minute sessions over a few weeks were spent teaching the fish to navigate towards the square. Despite stereotypes of goldfish as particularly dim, they’re more intelligent than given credit for; even when the pink markers were moved, and when decoy markers were used, the goldfish succeeded in the task.
The “fish-operated vehicle” was outfitted with a specialized algorithm, which not only tracked the fish but kept them from slamming into the tank walls.
The method isn’t new, either. A viral video from 7 years ago implemented the same technology to show a goldfish driving.
So why spend the resources teaching goldfish how to drive? Because we can? Because we want to implement fish chauffeurs in the future of our society? Well, it seems like the goal was less about the driving itself, and more about the navigation skills required for the task. Many types of fish (such as salmon, for example) have innate navigational skills that coincide with mating/breeding and feeding cycles of populations. Could they apply those senses to a completely new environment?
Contemporary fish migration has impacted populations and species’ distribution across the world. We could implement this odd experiment to possibly track and manage future fish populations for the better. Or we can keep making fun videos.