The Learning Curve of Goldfish

Goldfish swim in a display. (AP Photo/Azusa Uchikura)

Scientists at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva claim they have trained fish how to drive—not a car, exactly, but what they call a “Fish Operated Vehicle,” according to The Times of Israel.

The fish “were able to operate the vehicle, explore the new environment, and reach the target, regardless of the starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies,” said Shachar Givon and Matan Samina, who published the research along with Ohad Ben Shahar and Ronen Segev, in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

Six goldfish were taught to navigate the FOP, earning a reward after finding their way around small room. The reward was reportedly a small morsel of food, though the team did not specify what kind.

To perform the experiment, the fish were put in a tank attached to a wheeled apparatus, which was attached to a camera tracking the fish’s movement and a computer system designed to respond to the fish’s movement toward the walls of the tank by moving the vehicle in that direction.

The fish experiment demonstrates that navigation skills can be transferred from a marine environment to a terrestrial one, not unlike similar studies that tracked animal behaviors in zero- or low-gravity environments, they explained.

The learning curve was impressive. The fish learned to maneuver around obstacles, and as time went on, their performance improved. Many of the fish who required 30 minutes to find the target were eventually able to find it in under a minute.