People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is known for its bold awareness efforts, and rebranding fish as “sea kittens” back in 2009 was one such campaign. The decades-old campaign came to our attention when a Snopes reader asked us if PETA had indeed once attempted to rename fish.
PETA did carry out a campaign that rebranded fish in order to bring attention to their ability to feel pain and communicate, and this initiative occurred in 2009.
Back then, Ashley Byrne, a PETA campaign coordinator told NPR, “PETA thought that by renaming fish sea kittens, compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or a cat might extend that sympathy to fish, or sea kittens [...] Fish not only have the same ability to feel pain as a dog or a cat, but they also communicate with one another. They have complex social interactions; they form bonds; they express affection by gently rubbing against one another."
PETA created a website aimed at children and parents involving stories with “sea kittens.” Today the website appears to only have desktop banners available to download, and links back to PETA’s official site. The website states “Sea Kitten Facts”:
Sea kittens talk to each other through squeaks, squeals, and other low-frequency sounds that humans can only hear through special instruments. Most ichthyologists—scientists who specialize in sea kitten biology—agree that this is just about the cutest thing ever.
"Most parents would never dream of spending a weekend torturing kittens for fun with their families, but hooking a sea kitten through the mouth and dragging her through the water is the same as hooking a kitten through the mouth and dragging her behind your car,” Byrne said.
This was an early example of PETA’s rebranding attempts. More recently they called on the MLB to rename bullpens as “arm barns,” and launched a fake clothing store that “displayed” clothes made from human skin.