The Bubble Blog » Vewy Intewesting
Vewy Intewesting
Posted on September 28, 2007 by freshwater

I have noticed that Ricky recognizes the target stick not only as a location for targeting, but also as a pointer. If a food reward slips past his mouth, he often doesn't see where it has gone as it floats to the bottom of the tank. But if I use the target stick to point at the treat, Ricky will turn toward the direction where the stick is pointing, see the treat, and go get it. 

I didn't have a complicated training plan for this behavior (which I will call Pointer); I just tried pointing the target stick one time, and Ricky immediately figured it out. He also recognized the meaning when I pointed my finger underwater at a falling treat.

This is really interesting because: 1) To make the connection between the pointer and the treat, Ricky had to turn away from the stick, which is the opposite of targeting. Perhaps he initially saw the treat in his peripheral vision. Fish do have excellent peripheral vision. A biology discussion on an angler's web site points out: "Unlike humans, fish do not have general binocular vision, but they do have nearly complete peripheral coverage in separate visual fields of 180 degrees. They have a narrow field of binocular, stereoscopic vision where their visual fields overlap above and in front of their eyes. They also have a blind zone directly behind and below their bodies. Researchers think fish use their small field of binocular vision in the final fraction of a second before they grasp an item of food." 2 ) It seems a rather spectacular burst of insight for a fish to make the connection between the path of the target stick and the falling treat. Recent research found that, while dogs immediately understand the meaning of a pointing human finger, chimps have a hard time interpreting the gesture.

Whatever the reason, Ricky really seems to "get" pointing. Louie, in contrast, doesn't get it at all. I may try to teach him the behavior. Like targeting, pointing could be very useful for subsequent training goals.