Featured Lesson

Lesson 2:1 - Fish Sense

by Nadine Meyer, Aquatic Education Specialist

August 2008

Gyotaku Print of a Fish

Chapter 2 of the MinnAqua Leader’s Guide - Fishing: Get in the Habitat! focuses on Minnesota fish. Fish are incredibly fascinating and our Leader’s Guide is filled to the gills with fish information. Chapter 2 houses nine of our 39 lessons. The first lesson of Chapter 2, Lesson 2:1 - Fish Sense is particularly popular.

Download the Lesson

Lesson Summary

Students touch and hold a fish (or a rubber replica of a fish) to explore the six senses of fish and gain a better understanding of fish behavior. They compare and contrast their own senses with those of fish. When students have become comfortable with handling fish, they apply paint to a fish and print its image on a sheet of paper using the ancient Japanese art form of gyotaku (gee-oh-tah-koo).

Tips & Tricks

Interal Anatomy of a Fish Ear

Internal anatomy of a fish ear

  • Put paint into small dishes and use small paint brushes. This helps reduce the amount of paint students put on their fish, allowing for higher quality print with less smearing.
  • If a student puts too much paint on his or her fish, use a piece of scrap paper to do the first and possibly second print. Then the fish is ready for the high-quality final print. MinnAqua keeps blank newsprint on hand for just this sort of thing
  • Keep a couple buckets of water close by along with some scrub brushes for the students to use to wash their fish. This will prevent clogged drains and other potential messes that could occur when children are carrying painted fish to a sink for cleaning.
  • Keep a set of fish for T-shirt printing with fabric paints separate from the fish used with other water-based paints. Fabric paints dry very fast and usually do not wash off of the real fish or fish replicas very easily.
  • Keep a set of rags handy, instead of paper towels for drying fish before using them to print again. This reduces paper water. Make sure the fish are clean of paint before using the rags to dry them off. 
  • Be aware of wasp season if using real fish outside. If wasps are a problem, use one real fish to show the fish senses and use rubber fish replicas for the gyotaku activity. 

Material Suggestion

Rubber fish replicas for fish printing can be found in a variety of places. The only company that sells 5” rubber bluegill replica individually is Acorn Naturalists. Their website is http://www. acornnaturalists.com/. Other companies sell rubber fish replicas; the replicas are generally sold in sets with ocean and freshwater species.

Materials suggestions in Corrections & Updates are provided as an educational service and are not an endorsement by the MN Department of Natural Resources.

MinnAqua Lesson Connections

Teaching about fish senses ties in very easily with how to select fishing tackle. Try these lessons in conjunction with Lesson 2:1 - Fish Sense: 

Lesson 5:4 - Tackling Your Tackle Box (35 pages | 3.7 MB)

Lesson 5:5 - Flashy Fish Catchers (25 pages | 5.3 MB)


Suggested Online Student Resources

Try these resources to learn even more about fish senses: 

  • Minnesota Sea Grant's Fish Sensory Systems article provides great background information about fish senses. 
  • Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Lesson "Fish Sense" has more great activities to help students understand how fish see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. 
  • Fish in the Zone is a Young Naturalists article from the Minnesota Conservation volunteer that explores why fish have particular places, or zones, where they tend to gather. 


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