Do Fish Feel Empathy and Sadness – 2 Strange Emotions



  • Fish have feelings of empathy and sadness.
  • Fish are intelligent creatures with developed nervous systems. They can talk and interact with other fish. Therefore, they are empathetic.
  • Fish can get sad in a dirty environment or after the death of other fish.

People and animals that are more closely related to us (such as apes and dogs) are capable of experiencing empathy, sadness & love. Empathy is the ability to feel sorry for another person or animal’s situation, often leading to the desire to help them.

But does this ability extend beyond those species? Do fish feel empathy and sadness? Let’s take a look at the subject of whether fish can feel empathy.

Do Fish Feel Empathy? Observations Say Yes

There is no clear evidence that fish feel empathy for other creatures. Fish might be capable of feeling empathy. If Rainbow trout is exposed or caught in a net, other fish tries to help out the caught trout.

They act as if trying to free the distressed fish from its net by pushing at it with their snouts. This behavior shows empathy in Rainbow Trout.

Similarly, fish live in a school and have empathy for each other. They help each other to protect themselves from prey. This is not the complex form of empathy as different organisms have.

Schooling fish have empathy for each other  - Do fish feel empathy and sadness?

So, it is not clear whether complex emotions such as feelings of empathy are present in fish or not.

What Can Make a Fish Empathetic? Possible Factors

Several factors make us believe that fish could have feelings of empathy. These factors do not prove that fish can have complex emotions of empathy.

1. Nervous System

Fish have developed a nervous system. According to scientists, the nervous system of fish is similar to human beings. Therefore, they can feel pain as other pets do. Other domestic pets, i.e., cats or dogs, also have feelings of empathy for humans or other creatures.

There is no scientific evidence that fish have the feeling of empathy. There are no proper evidence and research on the emotions of empathy in fish.

2. Intelligent Animals

Fish are intelligent animals who can form social interactions, learn and observe. These tiny creatures have long-term memory. But this doesn’t prove that fish have empathetic nature.

Fish interact with each other - Do fish feel empathy

3. Fish Interact and Talk to Other

Fishes have feelings for their partners or young ones. They can talk with each other. We can only assume that fish may share their feelings with other fish. There is no proof of what fish discuss with one another.

4. Create Nest or Hiding Places

Fish in the wild environment build nests or mouth-brood their young ones. They also gather rocks to make a hiding place.

These factors show that fish is a complex creature with emotions but does not prove that fish feel empathy.

Are sharks capable of empathy?

The brain area controls emotions. In sharks, the brain is smaller than in humans or other animals. Therefore, sharks cannot show empathy like a human.

But some observations suggest. Sharks feel empathetic and friendly with some person or divers.

The diver reported that sometimes sharks respond positively to them when they go to their area. This may be a form of empathy. This empathy is not complex; therefore, it is known as bonding instead of empathy.

No doubt shark is a big animal with a brain. It is a wild fish and there is no scientific evidence that sharks feel empathy.

Do Fish Feel Sadness? Yes, they Do

Yes, fish can also get sad. Sadness cannot only be linked to human beings. Fish is a curious creature and in the natural environment, it tries to explore new areas.

If there is boredom in their environment or there is no new stimulus to trigger their emotion of happiness or love, then ultimately, fish will feel sadness.

If it persists for longer, sadness in fish may lead to anxiety and depression. The level of cortisol hormones in fish increases, which means fish is feeling sadness, anxiety or depression.

Sadness in fish can be observed when they are alone - Do fish feel sadness

How Do You Tell If Fish Is Sad?

The fish’s swimming pattern depicts its happiness, sadness, anxiety or other emotions.

 If your aquarium fish is sad, it will swim desperately in the whole aquarium. It will crash on the tank floor and start rubbing the head on the rocks.

Sometimes, fish may lock the fins at the side. These are the sign of sad fish.

What Can Make A Fish Sad?

It has been proved through various research on fish, especially Zebrafish, that fish can get bored. Fish can also lose interest in their environment, as a stressed or sad human do.

There could be many reasons for the fish’s sadness. It may become sad or frustrating when fish is commonly kept in a small dirty bowl or tank. Therefore, keeping pet fish in a large, clean tank is recommended.

Sometimes, if you provide fish with the same food for a more extended period, they may get sad or bored. Change the food of fish if it gets sad and try to provide them with their favorite food.

Do Fish Get Sad When Other Fish Dies?

Yes, fish can get sad when other fish dies. The sadness in fish can be observed through their physiology.

When a partner fish dies, then the fish may look lost. The sadness in fish is not much emotional because their memory is short-lived.

They can easily forget memories, so the death of other fish is also forgotten. Therefore, the sadness of the fish is for a short time on the death of other fish.

In some situations, Schreckstoff chemical is released in fish when they feel stressed. When other fish in an aquarium dies, the remaining fish may release this chemical. Due to the chemical release, unusual behavior in fish has been observed for some time.


Empathy and sadness are complex types of emotions. Scientists have discovered pain or anger in fish. Stress and anxiety are complex forms of sadness and have also been discovered in fish. But no scientific or observational research can explain empathy in fish.

Observe your aquarium fish and tell us in the comments whether your fish feel empathy and sadness or not.


  1. The Hidden Lives of Fish by Dr. Sylvia Earle
  2. Clark, K. J., Boczek, N. J., & Ekker, S. C. (2011). Stressing Zebrafish for Behavioral Genetics. Reviews in the neurosciences, 22(1), 49.
  3. Ziv, L., Muto, A., Schoonheim, P. J., Meijsing, S. H., Strasser, D., Ingraham, H. A., … & Baier, H. (2013). An affective disorder in zebrafish with mutation of the glucocorticoid receptor. Molecular psychiatry, 18(6), 681-691.

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