A viral TikTok video shows a sea ray appear to 'laugh' while being tickled, but an expert says it was 'suffocating to death'

Ben Williamson, US program director for World Animal Protection, told Insider that the creature in the video was likely in distress and not smiling.
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Last week, TikTok user @mafishguy posted a video showing a person "tickling a fish".
The video, which has 98 million views, resulted in commenters elating the person in the action of the video.
An animal welfare expert told Insider that the beam in the video "clearly suffocates to death".
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A TikTok video showing a person "tickling a fish" who appears to be smiling has garnered nearly 100 million views in just over a week, but animal lovers will find the action anything but laughable.
On June 7th, TikTok user @mafishguy posted a video that appears to be some type of sea ray lying on its back. In the background of the video of the ray, a person, probably the TikToker, asks: "How do you tickle a fish?"
Then the person tickles the belly of a small aquatic creature with gloved hands.
@mafishguy
There is nothing to see here .... just ## tickle a ## fish and make it laugh
♬ Original sound - Fishing Guy
The beam curls its wings and opens its mouth. At one point in the video, the fish's mouth forms a U-shape, similar to what people recognize as a smile. At the time of writing, the video had 98 million views and 11 million likes.
Ben Williamson, the program director of the US nonprofit World Animal Protection, told Insider that the creature in the video didn't smile because it was being tickled, just as many concerned TikTok users suspected in the comments. It was likely in need, said Williamson.
"That stingray is clearly choking," said Williamson. "The scientific literature is pretty clear. Like all fish, stingrays have the ability to experience pain. Anatomically, physiologically, and biologically, the pain system in fish is practically the same as that in birds and mammals."
Rays breathe with the help of gills located on the underside of the creature's body, according to Animal Diversity, a resource from the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology. The ray's gills in the TikTok video are under his mouth, and what looks like the ray's eyes are actually his nostrils.
Arrows point to the nostril, mouth and gills of the ray. @ mafishguy / TikTok
According to the Ocean Conservancy, the rays use gills to collect oxygen from the water. Without water, a ray will suffocate, depending on a handful of factors such as the length of time it has been out of the water, age of the ray, body condition, and the stress it is under, according to Good Living, the environmental department's blog and water in South Australia.
"Like all wild animals, stingrays should be left alone to live their lives in peace, free from human interference and harmful hobbies such as sport fishing," said Williamson.
TikTok user @mafishguy didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
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