Fishing for answers: improving welfare for aquarium fish

Miriam Sullivan

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated abstract] More than 1.5 billion fish are traded internationally each year. Fish are the most numerous type of pet and are kept in approximately 10% of Western households. Several studies indicate that most people do not consider fish welfare to be important, although scientific evidence shows that fish are behaviourally complex and feel pain.
    The aim of this thesis is to develop pathways for improving the welfare of pet fish.
    The welfare of captive fish is influenced by factors contributing to fish health (such as water quality, stress and behavioural needs) as well as factors contributing to the owner’s provision of care (such as knowledge, attitudes, social norms and media coverage). The relationships between these factors were explored using three methods: a survey of fish owners; an intervention using a short film to improve owner attitudes and behaviour; and the development of preference and motivational testing for determining the value of enrichment for fish.
    The survey identified fish owners’ perceptions of the main welfare issues affecting pet fish and helped model the attitudes that underlie aquarist behaviour. Fish owners responding to the survey (n = 534) reported that disease and old age were the most common causes of death for their pet fish, although it is likely that many of them underestimated the role of water quality in fish health. The majority of respondents (73%) reported that they are knowledgeable about fish care and actively share and seek information about their fish. However, more than a quarter of respondents (27%) admitted that they had limited knowledge of fish care and rarely sought information or social support for their hobby. Almost all respondents provided structural enrichment such as gravel and shelters for their fish, but less knowledgeable owners were more likely to provide artificial plants than real ones.
    Providing fish owners (n = 195) with a short film encouraging them to clean their aquaria weekly did increase the frequency of tank cleaning, but only if they already intended to do so. There was no measurable change in attitudes after watching the film, but using a positively framed film appeared to increase recall of the key message compared to the negatively framed film.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


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