- Last week, TikTok user @mafishguy posted a video showing a person "tickling a fish."
- The video, which has 98 million views, led commenters to call out the person in the video's action.
- An animal welfare expert told Insider that the ray in the video was "clearly suffocating to death."
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A TikTok video showing a person "tickling a fish" that appears to be smiling has gained almost 100 million views in just over a week, but animal lovers are finding the action anything but a laughing matter.
On June 7, TikTok user @mafishguy posted a video of what appears to be a type of sea ray laying on its back. In the background of the video of the ray, a person, presumably the TikToker, asks: "How do you tickle a fish?"
Then, with gloved hands, the person tickles the belly of a small aquatic creature.
The ray curls up its wings and opens its mouth. At one point in the video, the fish's mouth forms a U shape, similar to what humans recognize as a smile. At the time of writing, the video had 98 million views and 11 million likes.
Ben Williamson, the programs director of the nonprofit organization World Animal Protection in the US, told Insider that just as many concerned TikTok users guessed in the comments, the creature in the video was not smiling from being tickled. It was likely in distress, Williamson said.
"This stingray is clearly suffocating to death," Williamson said. "The scientific literature is quite clear. Like all fish, stingrays have the capacity to feel pain. Anatomically, physiologically, and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals."
Rays breathe with the help of gills, which are on the underside of the creature's body, according to Animal Diversity, a resource from the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. The gills on the ray in the TikTok video are below its mouth, and what may look like the ray's eyes are actually its nostrils.
Using gills, the rays collect oxygen from the water, according to the Ocean Conservancy. Without water, a ray will suffocate depending on a handful of factors like the length of time they are out of the water, the ray's age, body condition, and the stress they are under, according to Good Living, the blog run by the Department for Environment and Water in South Australia.
"Like all wild animals, stingrays should be left alone to live out their lives in peace, free from human interference and harmful hobbies, such as sportfishing," Williamson said.
TikTok user @mafishguy did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.