Yellow GloTetra staring at camera

Do Fish Watch TV and Can They Be Kept Safely Near It

Fish have remarkably good eyesight and their brains are more complex than many people believe.

If you were to place your tank close to a screen, its inhabitants will likely be drawn to it. But do fish watch TV the way we do? Can they comprehend the imagery or is it just a kaleidoscope of random colors?

Fish can perceive a moving picture. The dynamically changing light of the TV is stimulating and attractive. But they can’t focus their eyes and have a different color perception from ours. Exactly what fish discern from the 2D TV screen is unclear, but it is likely vastly different from what we see.

Next, can TV harm your fish?

Sound is a much more serious issue than light with TVs in close proximity to fish tanks. TVs are often loud and produce sudden noises that will startle the fish. Prolonged exposure to such soundscape will stress the inhabitants of your aquarium

As far as light is concerned, if the TV is off when the fish sleep, its brightness won’t bother them much. During the nighttime, diurnal fish rest, while nocturnal species prefer to go about their business in darkness. All the same, prolonged exposure from close range is not ideal.

If you are curious about what fish do at night, check out this detailed guide.

But now, let’s break down the impact TV can have on the well-being of your fish.

How Do Fish See?

Fish, especially carnivore and omnivore species, detect movement remarkably well.

I’ve covered in detail how fish eyes work, but in a nutshell, they aren’t that different from human eyes. Most noticeably, their eyes are rounder than ours, to account for refraction underwater.

Also, there are quite a few variations in what colors they perceive, as light changes quite a lot underwater. The deeper it goes, the fewer colors penetrate. But this holds true mostly for the relatively transparent sea water.

Many freshwater species come from muddy and unclear waters. To complicate matters even further, evolution often works in counterintuitive ways. African cichlids, for example, live in relatively shallow waters but perceive near the infrared range.

Naturally, another major difference with our vision is the fact that fish eyes are adapted to work underwater. Ours have evolved from similar beginnings to work in a dry environment.

Lastly, fish lack the ability to focus their eyes. They have to move closer to or further away from an object to bring it into perfect focus. On the other hand, the rounder eye lens delivers much wider peripheral vision.

Yeah, they are weird that way.

With such eyes, how do fish watch TV?

Fish Vision Through the (Looking) Glass

Fish can see rather well through the glass. I discuss below what role reflection plays from within, but overall, they can clearly see humans and possibly recognize their feeders.

But have you ever dived without eyewear? Have you tried to decipher the blurry, slightly annoying visual mess?

Fish would experience roughly the same issue if they were to use their eyes outside their natural habitat. But submerged they have excellent eyesight, on average (I mean, there are blind species and very shortsighted ones).

Now, what’s going on when watching from within the water, through the fish tank glass, through the air, at the 2D TV screen?

The tank glass is transparent. For the most part. If there is bright light and you look at a certain angle, reflection intensifies.

Fish experience similar visual restrictions. They have a field of vision that is focused enough to see through the aquarium walls, but it works only at a certain angle. Most likely, fish see through a “window”, a relatively small portion of the glass, and the rest is reflection. Remember, they can’t focus their eyes at will.

Even when they are in the right position to see though, they probably can’t focus on what’s on the TV screen very clearly. Besides, the TVs produce a 2D image that we are accustomed to and able to interpret. Other animals simply cannot see beyond the blurry, colorful, moving meaninglessness.

Overall, fish see well enough through the aquarium walls but probably cannot focus well on the TV picture. What’s more, they can’t interpret it in any meaningful (for us) way and most likely cannot discern between the various forms and separate images displayed there.

All the same, the moving light is attractive.

Do Fish Enjoy Watching TV?

Until fish learn to talk or our brain scanning tech improves by several orders of magnitude, it is impossible to know for sure whether and how much fish enjoy watching TV.

They certainly are attracted to the bright, changing colors but attraction doesn’t necessarily cause enjoyment.

What is certain is that loud, sudden sounds seriously stress small and big fish alike.

Can I Put My Fish Tank Near the TV?

While placing an aquarium close to or on top of a TV is a possibility, it is better to put some distance between the two. This way you can watch TV late at night without bothering the sleeping fish.

More importantly, the sound emitted by the TV set won’t startle the fish. As discussed above, fish do watch TV because of the attractive colors, but loud, sudden sounds will always scare the.

Lastly, should the aquarium break or start leaking, the TV won’t be damaged.

All in all, keep fish away from the TV and both will be happier.

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