In his 2005 novel, “Saturday,” the acclaimed writer Ian McEwan describes what his protagonist, Henry Perowne, sees when he visits a London seafood market to buy ingredients for a fish stew: crates of crabs and lobsters, still moving, and marble slabs arrayed with “bloodless white flesh, and eviscerated silver forms.”
While there, he ponders reports of recent scientific research demonstrating that fish can feel pain. It is a good thing that sea creatures “have no voice,” Perowne thinks. “Otherwise there’d be howling from those crates.”
Perowne’s thoughts may have been fictional, but the reports were real. They were written by Victoria Braithwaite, then a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, who died on Sept. 30 at her home in Boalsburg, Pa. She was 52.
Her death, from pancreatic cancer, was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Penn State University, where she had been a professor of fisheries and biology since 2007.
In two papers, one published in Proceedings of the Royal Society and the other in The Journal of Pain, Ms. Braithwaite and her colleagues attracted public attention with their reports that fish had neural cells that react to injuries; and that fish exposed to unpleasant stimuli acted differently from fish not exposed.
In the book “Do Fish Feel Pain?” (2010), she argued that fish should be accorded the same protections applied to birds and mammals, such as humane slaughter. Animal rights activists praised her work. But many neuroscientists and fish biologists responded to Ms. Braithwaite’s findings with skepticism, or even disdain.
Victoria Anne Braithwaite was born on July 19, 1967, in Halifax, England, the sixth of seven children of Alan and June (Pickles) Braithwaite. Her father was a textile executive, her mother a magistrate.
She studied zoology as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Oxford. She took a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Glasgow, where she began her work on cognition in fish. She was on the faculty of the University of Edinburgh from 1995 until joining Penn State in 2007.
In 1992 Ms. Braithwaite married Andrew Read, a researcher on infectious diseases; they divorced in 2015. She is survived by two sons and two grandchildren.