We investigated the mechanism and functions of shoal choice in relation to nutritional state in the zebrafish. Single fish that had been well fed or food deprived for 2 days were presented with a choice between two stimulus shoals. Food-deprived test fish showed a significant preference for well-fed stimulus fish over food-deprived ones whereas well-fed test fish did not exhibit any significant preference. Subsequent experiments showed that food-deprived test fish had a significantly higher foraging success in shoals consisting of well-fed individuals than in ones that comprised food-deprived fish. No difference in the locomotory behaviour of food-deprived and well-fed stimulus fish was found with respect to the proportion of time spent swimming (as opposed to being motionless), the proportion of time spent in the upper part of the test tank and the number of sharp turns. However, body weight, stomach width (measured directly behind the pectoral girdle) and ventro-dorsal height significantly decreased over a 48-h food-deprivation period. The potential use of the latter factors for the recognition of food-deprived individuals is discussed.