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Creation 10(1):9, December 1987

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Do fish listen to opera?


Can fish hear opera? Absurd as it sounds, this question once formed part of a scientific test to find out if fish could hear.

Early in the 20th century, Professor Otto Korner, director of the ear clinic at Rostock University in East Germany, was among a group who maintained that fish were deaf. From the design of fish ears, Professor Korner and others concluded that fish must be deaf because some structures regarded as essential for hearing were not present in their inner ears.

To prove his case, the professor devised some rather unusual experiments.1 He set up some tanks containing fish. He pursed his lips, then whistled to the little creatures to watch their reaction. Their lack of response left him no choice. He must find a better sound experience for his fish.

So he hired a famous opera singer. She was to treat the fish to an enthralling experience of German songs. Her soprano trills and ear-piercing notes entertained the professor, but left the fish as unmoved as did the professor’s tuneless whistles. Professor Korner announced that because the fish were completely unresponsive to his experiments, it proved his claim: fish were deaf!

Viennese naturalist Karl von Frisch, who was later to discover the honeybee’s ‘dance’ method of communication, was unconvinced by Korner’s experiments. Von Frisch reasoned that whistles and opera were probably not something a fish would go wild over, unless perhaps they were used to signal the appearance of food.2

So von Frisch used a blind catfish. Several times each day he would approach the fish-tank, whistle a few notes, then dangle a tasty morsel under the fish’s nose. For six days the fish reacted only to the food, seeming to ignore the whistle. Then finally the catfish associated the whistle with the arrival of food. As soon as von Frisch whistled, the blind fish lunged out—before the piece of worm was offered. This convincingly demonstrated, even to the satisfaction of Professor Korner and other skeptics, that fish do have hearing ability.

Experts can be wrong. Wrong conclusions such as Professor Korner’s follow from wrong assumptions or erroneous starting points. Can secular evolutionists all be wrong? Not in everything of course. But by denying the Creator and His revelation to man, their evolutionary assumptions and experiments may produce conclusions as wrong as Professor Korner’s experiment to find out if fish were listening to opera.

Posted on homepage: 15 April 2015

References and notes

  1. Sparks, J., The Discovery of Animal Behaviour, William Collins and BBC, London, 1982, pp. 181–2. Return to text.
  2. Ridley, M., Animal Behaviour, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1986, p. 43. Return to text.