LIHUE — When Dr. Jonathan Balcombe watches a beta swim in a bowl, he doesn’t just see a fish. He sees a personality.
“Different animals experience the world in different ways, and they have their own ways of expressing things,” Balcombe said. “I think it’s fascinating and from my earliest memories, I’ve wondered what that experience is like.”
Born in England and currently living in Florida, Balcombe is the director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy. He received his doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee, where he studied bat communication.
He’s also authored several books, including his newest work, “What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins.”
That’s going to be the subject of his talk at the Sun Village clubhouse in Lihue on June 18 at the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii’s potluck and lecture event.
The topic is especially appropriate for Hawaii, with its thousands of fish species and the fact that consuming the animals is part of the culture, according to Thomas Eisendrath, president of the Kauai Vegetarian Society.
“Fish are somehow considered sub-animal sometimes,” Eisendrath said. “For other animals, the cruelty associated with killing it keeps people from eating them, but what about fish?”
In his book and his talks, Balcombe shares published research that dives into the world of fishes — pointing out flashes of cognitive thought and emotional awareness beyond what’s commonly expected from fish.
“My goal is always to raise eyebrows and drop jaws in terms of what animals do,” Balcombe said, “and to link that to the extremely troubled relationship we have with these creatures.”
Humans have misunderstood fishes for many years, Balcombe said, and tend to suffer from a superiority complex when it comes to our place in the global pecking order.
“The lesson is to be compassionate and empathetic, it’s to remember we’re just one group, to be better stewards of the earth and better members of the world’s community,” Balcombe said.
Balcombe is wrapping up a three-island lecture tour with his Sunday afternoon talk on Kauai, set for 4:30 p.m. at the Sun Village clubhouse in Lihue. He’ll be lecturing on Oahu and Maui earlier in the week.
Admission to the lecture is free, and a potluck dinner will follow Balcombe’s lecture. Organizers ask people to bring a vegan dish with an ingredient list to add to the potluck, or donate $10 for dinner. A $25 gift certificate is available for the best dish.
Info: 346-8743 or www.vsh.org