First, this lovely headline (via Tim C)

Second, @gregorwright sent me this video of some ‘magic fish’……

Any idea what is going on?


  1. “Invisible” walls. If you put glass that has the same light refraction index as the liquid in the tank, the glass will be literally invisible.

    Maybe some other kind of invisible fish stimulator that moves them in synch?

  2. It is training… but, as you can see the water level is very low, so It’s possible they’re “tracing” a path manipulating the deep under the tank.

  3. Sadly I do know how its done. Yes it’s magnets.
    Those poor live fish have had magnets sewn into/onto there belly’s.
    There’s a track underneath a little like a slot car set up. I have no idea why so many cultures don’t consider animal cruelty as cruelty. So much testing over so many years has shown that animals have more than autonomic responses to stimulus. They have emotional responses and they most certainly feel pain. I wish humans could simply get that.

    1. Presumably, magnets are also part of the explanation of the “Cyril’s fish trick” as can be found on Youtube…

      The fish do not use their tailfinduring motion, wich is the strongest indication for an external propelling force..

      The same trick in a deep water aquarium would be much more impressive..

    2. Yeah I thought so. Sadly it wouldn’t require skilled surgery to pop magnets into fish. Disturbing. However what about doint it to a fly? A frog?

      Richard should totally devise a poll and test our level of sympathy to animal species!

  4. I think the fish have been trained follow the motion of the trainers fingertips. Notice how the trainer keeps his hands next to clear glass wall to give the fish visual cues. My goldfish often lined up in little formations just like these, with no prompting at all.

    I had goldfish in an outside pond for years, and they were quite easy to move around with food pellets (not like this video though!)

    The magnet idea seems reasonable, but I don’t think it is necessary.

    1. It could be following underwater currents generated by a machine, it would be hard using magnets cause it has to be below the table and some1 neds to control the movement of magnets???

  5. I would guess they are trained fish. I can see shadows underneath them and they appear to be swimming normally (which would not be the case if they were being dragged along by magnets).

    Fish are very intelligent and highly trainable.You can even buy training kits to teach your fish how to play soccor and do the limbo:

    1. You keep saying that, yet you don’t appear to be sharing your wonderful knowledge. So I’m calling your bluff until you prove me wrong.

  6. If it’s magnets sewn into the fish (and there’s more than enough here to suspect that is the case) then it’s animal cruelty and you should remove this item Richard. It’s no longer cool.

    1. If you hit the reply button next to your original comment, your reply will appear in the same thread. That way, Simon is more likely to see it.

    2. It is difficult to prove, and for me, it’s not about believing or disbelieving you personally, but about basic skepticism. I can accept that you saw what you saw, and I can easily believe this would happen, and it is abhorrent. However, I have to suspend judgment about what is going on in this case given that both training and magnets have a number of people in support, and I have no evidence or corroboration. I would love to see some evidence, even a link to a quality journalistic report on the phenomenon would be nice, because I certainly want to know if this is as awful as it may be. But I can’t make that determination based on a few comments. What I find interesting is that these people are probably claiming they trained the fish, whether it’s done with magnets or not. But if they’ve convinced people fish can be trained, doesn’t that imply a level of fishy intelligence that makes the magnet scenario all the more disgusting? I find that ironic.

    3. Thanks for a considered post Gus. I don’t wish to keep going on so Ill just say two things.
      I also wish i could link to a quality journalistic report on this and …
      Its a Magic trick performed by a Magician.

    4. And a magician friend of mine once told me the greatest secret in all of magic is this: the magician is lying. So that’s a point if favor of your explanation.

    5. Basic skepticism says you assume the simplest explanation and try to disprove it (Occam’s Razor). Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and to me the assumption someone can train fish to execute at that level of performance is a lot more extraordinary than the assumption there’re evil people in the world that would sew magnets to fishes. Moreover, it’s easier to disprove it’s magnets (look under the fish, under the table, and put a compass near both) than to disprove fishes can be trained at that level of performance (you can always move the goalpost and claim you didn’t use the right training). In this case, my assumption is it’s magnets until proof to the contrary.

    6. T.C., where would the magnets be, though? If they are in the bottom of the tank, the fish would be dragged down, not just forward. If they’re in his hands, the fish would be upturned. And why do the fish keep facing forward? If they’re being dragged, they might as well be moving sideways.
      To me, trained fish aren’t that extraordinary. I’ve seen footage of people training goldfish. The magnet theory seems a bit more implausible.

  7. If it was magnets wouldn’t they be pulled to the bottom of the tank? Perhaps they are at the bottom of the tank actually. But it looks like they’re moving pretty freely which makes me think they’re not stuck to the bottom.

    1. It’s believable (and cute!) but quite different from the video in this post. There’s a lot of trial and error and the fish doesn’t move mechanically.

  8. I have another thought. There’s a thread on this on the Snopes message board, but no definitive answer (and it dates from 2000), but one commenter mentioned schooling behavior, and that makes sense to me. There is a TED talk out there about swarming and schooling behavior, and it’s pretty interesting, sorry I don’t have the link at hand. But it seems possible that these fish have just formed a school, which then responds to the movement of the hands much the way it would respond to an attacking fish.

    There’s also an argument against the magnet theory over there that seems plausible: the fish show no sign of struggling against a force trying to control them. More likely you would see fish going backwards or at least flailing against the magnets.

    And finally, is it one magnet? Four? How do you make four fish stay in such a neat formation with magnets? The magnetic force tends to be a bit messy in practice, and you’d likely end up with some strange clumping or one fish getting off track. So if it is magnets, it seems likely that there is also some video duplication of the fish involved as well.

    1. What do you call MAGIC? If you mean using some odd unexplained force from tapping somehow into otherworldly dimensions, I am afraid the answer is that magic is not the answer.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. You could make something that looked like that using Flash or a similar program, animating either cg fish or looping clips of the real thing.

  9. With reference to the headline in the paper – I was on a train a few years ago with some older girls from a well-known private Girls’ School and all they talked about was their expertise at the act implicitly alluded to, so I’m not that surprised to be honest!

    1. Yes. The fetching fish in the clip posted above by mark swims backward a few times as well, and I’ve seen other fish do it. Not for long, but certainly briefly.

  10. Oh my god. I fully did not get that headline the first time I saw it. It was only now, seeing it again and thinking “why the hell is he so hung up on this article?” that I finally got it! xD It’s true, btw. I went to a girls’ school, and my classmates were… rather disturbing. Either that or terrified of boys. They always go to one of the two extremes.

  11. Magnets.

    The tray is shallow, just deep enough for the fish. They are dragging along the bottom without much visible shadow, and with the camera angle up high. Their movement is slightly jerky at times, similar to how a magnet on top of a desk moves when linked to a moving magnet underneath.

    One fish flails about a bit near the end, but doesn’t move out of formation for all that fin-waving. Most likely they are used to being dragged about, or perhaps even tired from prior flailing.

    Note that the fish are in two pairs, and that the point around which the fish pivot (where the magnet attraction is focused) in each pair remains a constant distance apart. They turn not so much as a fish would, but as a flag would if dragged through water by its pole.

    Underneath is someone with two rectangular blocks with a magnet on each end. When held together, the magnets on the blocks form a square pattern that is used for the first laps. Separating the two blocks and swinging them around to be end-to-end gives the single file pattern. And then moving that line across the field gives the race pattern. At the end, they move the two blocks separately and spin them.

    Rare-earth magnets are more than strong enough for this task. The fish don’t even have to have much more than a bit of metal attached to them, if the magnets underneath are strong enough. (I have a set of finger-crushers at home that would do the job marvelously.)

    And a temporary glue makes this humane enough. I can’t see the fish having much in the way of lasting psychological damage…

  12. My very first thought was the same as Dario Ringach @ 11

    Images of fish projected from below.

    The most likely answer, no?

    Far easier to manipulate some filmed footage of fish than it would be to either surgically attach magnets to live fish, or train them.

    I think (admittedly with nothing to back this up) that if it was magnets you would see the fish trying to struggle against the forces pulling on them, and if they were trained then the formations wouldn’t be quite so tight and perfect.

  13. I think the magician Fu was lying. I believe the trick was done by magnets. Fu defended that he trained the fish by his magic “harmless” method (i.e. his magical power), I do not accept this excuse because myself is a magician. Do not forget, PRC may stand for People’s Republic of Cheating. It has been usual practice for all kinds of cheating to happen in PRC without conscience.

  14. A magician is someone who says they’re doing one thing while doing something entirely different, and will try their very best to keep you from knowing what that is. All while being up-front and honest about it by labeling themselves a “magician”.

    As Jamy Ian Swiss says, a magician is an “honest liar”.

    If you agree to call someone a magician, you are agreeing to be lied to. I think that should hold up in court every bit as well as shrink-wrap license agreements for software. (…Maybe more so.)

    So of COURSE Fu is lying about having trained the fish. He trained them with “magic”… An up-front lie.

    I stand by my analysis of his technique as posted in the comment above from Feb 8th, 2010.

  15. Being a magician, I sometimes need to lie (honestly) for the sake of performance, but I have never proclaimed that I have any kind of real mysterious extraordinary power. Fu has tried to defend against the accusation by saying that he trained the fish by his magical ESP — obviously a dishonest lie to bluff the muggles (those who do not know magic)!

  16. Don’t need surgery. A little glue will do the trick and it deteriorates after a couple hours, freeing the bit of metal. This isn’t cruelty any more than putting a dog on a leash.

  17. Pingback: Aquaponics
  18. Got my first letter yesterday! Loved it. I feel like I’m a aspect of something excellent that is just starting to occur. Feeling a strange sense of community around it all. Maybe you are on to something here! Who would have ever assumed that persons would basically print out words on paper just to have it sent with the mail to another person’s mailbox. Next thing you know, peoe will be growing their own food and walking or riding bikes everywhere. It’ll never get the job done, damn progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s