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On our world, human minds can be transferred intact into animals. It was originally intended for people with medical conditions, but some genius thought it would be clever to store violent prisoners as fish, in large tanks. Well, it's because the prison had two salmon doctors due to their sideline activism in fish-habitat restoration (trying to blow up a dam). So, for their docile animal, the prison selected atlantic salmon, 13 year lifespan, and the minds are re-transferred as needed to young healthy fish.

Then, the hurricane or tsunami came. Having thought of, planned and practiced for a similar escape plan, the prisoners knew exactly what to do. They used the storm surge, and the absolute chaos on the human side, to slip their pens and escape to open ocean.

Now they have their human knowledge of geography and full access to any ocean on earth, access to inland waterways that are not blocked to fish, and the knowledge to navigate locks when humans open them. Salmon can operate in both salt and fresh water. They have worked out communication between each other and it is effective.

Remember, they are human-smart, and nobody needs to explain the Prisoner's Dilemma to them. They have team defenses against birds and other predators. The two salmon doctors are respected as leaders, and have prepared everyone well for life outside. These prisoners are not going to die of stupidity/not knowing how to be a salmon.

Now you have a gang of human-smart, human-experienced, very vengeful salt water/fresh water fish who want to cause civilized society as much trouble as possible. What harm could they do?

Followup Q&A

Species substitution is absolutely fine. The lore could simply make them the other kind of sea life scientists. (I chose salmon because it fit the dambusting story). The original question posited "animals generally" and established that human brains will fit somehow. Feel free to armwave past some physical limitations like salmon's poor eyesight. (If smarts can fix the Hubble lens, why not a salmon eye?) Blend in salmon abilities as makes sense: they can perceive it, perhaps they can learn it, and they have competent teachers. The human brains have full memory of their previous lives, so they know where Jimmy Hoffa's body was sunk, the layout of the canal system, and when the refinery shuts down the heat exchangers for maintenance.

Would they use the storm surge to swim around the city to cause landside mayhem; nope. They are terrified the water will recede at any moment, and they don't want to end up gasping on a sidewalk. Their only plan during the storm surge is to get to open ocean. Their dream made real, only now do they scheme.

Only reluctantly would they suicide; they'd look for technical ways to not have to die. Maybe they can train real fish to die for them, or use a biological mechanism as a timer.

Communication with each other is efficient. Communication with random humans is comedy. A few guards at the prison trained up to have struggling direct conversations, but may have developed a more precise scheme like a ouija board painted at the bottom of a pool to communicate with the scientists. Any random prisoner would have trouble snitching. The prison has no idea they planned for a storm surge escape, and they actively search and throw together fish-activatable mechanisms to signal "I have returned, please help me".

That means they could stay away for awhile and still return. Returnees would probably be turned back into humans and debriefed, and to a man they would give well-practiced fish stories of how difficult it was to return and how they barely escaped with their lives, to avert escape charges. This might be a consideration in their plans for mayhem, better for them if they can conceal that smart salmon did it, "what could I have done? I WAS A FISH".

As to why they'd risk a <<13 year life in the wild, freedom is like that. Maybe not all do. None will rat out the plan. The prison is not the only one who can port them into better bodies, but moving into a non-fish body is beyond the scope of this question.

Do the prisoners need to actively manage all aspects of salmon life - probably but not sure, see the earlier question. They will bring human skill and teamwork to every problem including feeding.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Feb 26 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ This may or may not be relevant, but for a salmon, swimming up a river as an adult is a one-way "suicide" mission. They then spawn and die. The do not survive to return to salt-water. It's sea-trout that can swim between salt and fresh water repeatedly and with no ill effects. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Feb 26 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ Fish jumping outside of watter can easly stun a man. Target yatch, politics and celebrities. If you can get a lion fish poisonous fin.. Aim the carotid. No one will see you comming. $\endgroup$ – xdtTransform Feb 26 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Are kamikaze/suicide attacks possible, or they refuse to die for the cause? There are sunken ships all around the world full of ammunition. Messing with one of them can cause serious trouble. Blow up the one in London, maybe along with a few others around the same time, and people will blame some terrorist group for the attacks. $\endgroup$ – Nyos Feb 27 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ Should we assume these fish can communicate with each other fluently? And if so, is communicating to humans possible? $\endgroup$ – rek Feb 27 at 6:12

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Make someone overreact

So you swim to North Korea (hopefully the tank was not too far). Once there, you regroup in the shape of a submarine and you slowly approach any US/Japanese/Chinese/North Korean/South Korean warship you can find. Hope someone overreact and press the wrong button. If not, try again.

Playing with nerves

Also every time you see soldiers on small rafts in the area, you capsize them and make them disappear to the bottom of the ocean. This will help people press the wrong button sooner or later.

These kind of boat or smaller would probably be possible to capsize by a sufficient amount of well coordinated salmons: Credit: www.military.com

The holy grail

There is one thing that if you can manage to find, will help you achieve your goal much faster. A water mine!

Maybe there will be some in proximity of some secret North Korean's navy facilities. Find one, bring it in the path of any large warship in the area, and swim away fast.

Source: reddit.com

Escalation

Then let's relax and watch the escalation of violence turn into a nuclear war, naughty salmons.

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    $\begingroup$ "be possible to capsize by a sufficient amount of well coordinated salmons" - made my day $\endgroup$ – abyss.7 Feb 26 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Is it even possible for a school of fish to be misidentified as a submarine? I was under the impression that submarines are usually identified by their noise signature rather than their outline on sonar. A school of salmon won't sound anything like a submarine. It'd be a pretty outrageous overreaction to launch missiles randomly at perceived enemies because there's an unidentifiable vessel in your bay. Who do you even target? $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Feb 26 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Legisey Now we're bordering on a Dr. Strangelovian caricature of military protocols. Nuclear missile launches are not the result of one jittery guy hovering his hand inches above a big red button. The probability that an unidentifiable vessel taking no aggressive action would spark a nuclear war is very low, and gets less likely the more this tactic is attempted. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Feb 26 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang "Nuclear missile launches are not the result of one jittery guy hovering his hand inches above a big red button" Are you sure about that? I hear bad things about some president with orange skin. $\endgroup$ – Christian Feb 26 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ I can see it happen in a comedy, because there is something comedic about a ship commander overreacting so outrageously to a whole bunch of fishes they're willing to go single-handedly and unilaterally to war for it. I could also see it happen in a crapsack, dystopian, fingers already on the trigger, brink of nuclear war world. For anything in between it seems like stretching suspension of disbelief way thin. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Feb 27 at 15:26
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Let's shut down and/or melt-down some nuclear power plants.

Heck if some brainless Swedish jellyfish could do it in 2013, surely a gang of criminal salmon can manage!

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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean dam outflows, or do you just hate outflows? ;) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Zhang Feb 26 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ Would this be a suicide mission, or do the fish have some means of clogging the pipes without sacrificing themselves? $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Feb 27 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ do they have to be salmons? Hagfish can create great amounts of clogging slime in less than a second - this way this would not be a suicide mission. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Feb 27 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish Umm, judging by your username you seem likely to actually put this into action, so I'm hesitant to tell you this, but I think a salmon is large enough to pick up some debris and make lots of trips $\endgroup$ – Deolater Feb 27 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish No, they merely need to herd jellyfish/other animals into the appropriate pipe... $\endgroup$ – Basic Mar 1 at 11:10
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What harm can they do?

Not much. They lack arms/hands and legs/feet. Their ways of communicating will be limited, and whatever they come up with according

forcing them to work together to learn to communicate

that will be some form of communication which works for the giants fish tanks they're being held in. Not a vast ocean.

Besides, most species of salmon only live a few years. The longer the prisoners/salmon had to make plans, the elderly they are.

It's far more likely they will quickly end up as food, or succumb to parasites.

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    $\begingroup$ These are fair concerns. I edited my question to clarify that communication is viable, they are young specimens of long-lived species, and they are the opposite of dumb fish. They know what to eat, what not to do, how to use tools, and how to effectively fight predators. $\endgroup$ – Harper Feb 25 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ Harper, I'm sorry to spoil your idea, but this answer seems the most accurate. Some of this you can get away with by hand waving - ie communication. But how does a salmon "use tools?" Most or all of the highly voted answers are proposing things that would involve physically impossible feats - swimming to other parts of the world, through different climates, carrying or moving large and heavy objects, somehow managing to control other sea life, etc. None of that is realistic. $\endgroup$ – dwizum Feb 27 at 18:38
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Well, I'm sorry to say, but the world as you know it, is in deeper trouble than you think. The fishes just need to follow a simple 2-step process.

Step 1: Try to get back into a human body.

Given that "The business of mind storage [has] become a profitable one", it would be fair to assume that the technology to do so would be fairly easily accessible. So our fishes just need to find an ally, and convey to them that they need to be transferred to a human body!

The ally could be their evil friends outside prison who are still escaping the law-enforcement, or could be a rogue nation who wants to hurt rest of the world. I'm sure the fishes have had enough time to identify potential help, and ways to communicate their message.

Step 2: Cause mayhem (with your human bodies)!

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    $\begingroup$ They could potentially even dupe someone into thinking they were innocents trapped in the fish bodies. If they can figure out a good way to communicate (scratching in the dirt, nosing letters on a tablet, etc) $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Feb 27 at 7:11
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Your super smart Salmon want to cause chaos so what they do is abduct highly aggressive species and forcefully migrate them into environments where they have an abundance of food and not many natural predators.

Eventually the ecosystem in these areas are ruined leading to a collapse in the supply of seafood causing seafood prices to spike and the lack of diversity causes tourists to avoid the area leading to the general decline of coastal towns.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe they only need to move the eggs. $\endgroup$ – Harper Feb 25 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ "abduct highly aggressive species" Um ... won't the aggressive species just eat the salmon? $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 25 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK The super smart salmon are also highly aggressive and smarter. They only need to abduct what they can manage and repeat it until they have achieve their desired results. Eggs, Infants and full adult species are all fair game. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Feb 25 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee - So why don't they just move to these areas themselves and do their own job of ruining the ecosystem? It's a lot easier than trying to abduct unintelligent aggressive fish who don't want to leave! $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Feb 25 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK You bit them on the tail and drag them over? steal the babies and take them over? Steal the eggs and take them over? Pay a fisherman to illegally dump them? Lure some horny sailors transporting catfish into a reef, thus freeing them? Purchase an AD on google for Hot Catfish singles in your area, but the area is the eco system you want to target? Doesn't even need to be catfish. Thats just the first invasive species I thought of. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Feb 26 at 2:04
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I think the key is to stop thinking like a fish....it offers them very few advantages. The only thing they should worry about as salmon is how to stop being salmon.

Head to a touristy destination where people rent canoes or kayaks and make a coordinated effort to cause one of them to drop their cellphone. Many phones are waterproof to some reasonable depth and it seems more and more will be in the future.

Now you have a cellphone.

In a group of violent criminals, certainly, they would have at least a few reliable criminal partners "on the outside" who would be willing to pay (or force) a mage to transfer their minds out of the fish and into something better...even if they don't have access to their original bodies they could obtain something better than salmon.

At that point, you've just got a group of angry people (or angry chimps, or whatever they decide to put their minds into) who want to cause damage to society. They'd probably adopt the same strategies as any modern terrorist style organization.

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Shutdown the Internet

Well, that is a unlikely action to be performed by salmons because of their lack of sharp whatever, but beside this most to all communication across the oceans is backboned by water-cables. While I still don't think that a salmon might be able to nibble through an intact water cable, at least they could give it a try.

If that fails you still could take advantage of the decreased weight of everything in water: go find a big boulder and make it fall at that cable. I assume you do have the power of plot when you will bring your salmons to life, so finding a suitable stone will be no problem.

This course of action will be even more devasting today than it would have been some years ago, because optical wires tend to be more rigid than copper wires, which will make them break apart under pressure instead of... morphing (copper is pretty soft).

If you do coordinate your efforts you will have america disconnected from europe and asia in no time. And now imagine: no voice-over-ip phone, no clouds, ip routes pointing to unreachable targets... that does have the chance of becoming a very black day for everything that needs internet to work properly.

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    $\begingroup$ No clouds will cause droughts which'll cause famine which'll cause starvation which'll stop people fixing the cables. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Feb 28 at 20:35
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Taste great, and incalculably and capriciously be sometimes extremely poisonous (which seems to be dependent on what you eat as a fish in some cases)...

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    $\begingroup$ When the mayhem I can cause as a criminal salmon hinges entirely on my ability to commit suicide in a specific manner (being caught by fishermen and sold to a grocery/restaurant or be otherwise made available for human consumption)... well the end result is a far cry from the strategies that trigger nuclear war. $\endgroup$ – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Feb 27 at 0:06
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Mass Murder

You have a school of fish and a bunch of relaxing humans in the water. How hard would it be to (with a very large school of fish) swarm the individual and force them underwater. Salmon trying to jump up rapids can go fast and far now imagine a school of salmon charging at your face to knock you out or disorient you. Once disoriented they just need to keep swimming into you until your exhausted enough and just drown.

Considering that their targets could be young children these criminals could go from beech to beech just murdering anyone who goes out to far or is weak. No swimming hole connected to the ocean would be safe from the murder school.

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They could cause mayhem but really messing up the ecosystem. By altering that you cause global damage with localised areas really suffering. Fishing trades and other similar trades will take a huge hit, which could cause a huge spike in the ocean-life population.

This all in turn has knock-on effects. Because there are more fish, hunters of fish will come in greater in numbers. If the fish then decided to risk it, they can hang near towns and villages, bringing the hunters into towns which, depending on the animal brings all sorts of dangers.

You could also play the numbers game and try to damage places that humans have interacted with to create a certain gain from them - e.g. damns, hydro plants etc.

All in all, attacking the ecosystem to create a huge global knock-on effect would cause huge amounts of mayhem. I think Austrailia's ecosystem is a good one to look at, a single species of snake was introduced post-WW2 and it had a huge effect on their localised system - imagine a sentient fish species that could control multiple species.

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