Can fish drown in water?

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Photo,Of,A,Tropical,Fish,On,A,Coral,Reef.,Red (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

Whether it be from a beginner aquarist or someone attempting to win a trivia game, “can fish drown” is one of the most often asked questions. This article will help you determine whether it’s feasible and assist you in comprehending the procedure.

Can Fish Drown?

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Fancy carp or Cyprinus rubrofuscus dead in the well.
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The general public has the misconception that fish cannot drown. After all, they live and breathe underwater!

This may come as a surprise to many, but fish may simply perish from a lack of oxygen. Believe it or not, fish need oxygen to exist, just like people and air-breathing creatures. When they don’t have access to oxygen, it’s hard for them to remain alive.

You see, oxygen is vital for maintaining both terrestrial and marine life. Oxygen mixes with other elements to produce proteins and living cells. It also plays a role in storing energy that every biological function in a fish’s body requires to keep active.

Oxygen supports the organs and ensures that everything from the brain to the liver operates appropriately.

Your body and a fish’s body have significant similarities despite their apparent differences. Their hearts pump oxygenated blood to their numerous organs continuously. Both also contain organs that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide.

The distinction resides in how fish respirate and how they receive their oxygen.

Fish make use of dissolved oxygen in the water. You can’t see oxygen molecules, yet they’re there nevertheless.

Water has an oxygen content ranging from 2 to 8 PPM. For reference, the air we breathe is roughly 210,000 PPM.

Fish certainly have a more challenging task of acquiring oxygen. Fortunately, they don’t require as much as we do. It is believed that the majority of fish have a cold-blooded constitution. They don’t need to use the same energy as warm-blooded creatures to maintain their life support systems.

Therefore, they can thrive on considerably lower oxygen levels. Despite this, fish need oxygen to survive.

So, are fish capable of drowning?

In a way, fish are pretty capable of drowning in low-oxygen conditions. The precise word for what happens isn’t “drowning,” though. Suffocation is more like what occurs.

Fish Need Oxygen

To address how a fish might drown underwater, it would be beneficial to know a bit about the biology and anatomy of a fish.

Fish have organs that need oxygen, just like humans and other animals. Oxygen is required to keep the cells in fish’s hearts and brains working correctly. The heart circulates oxygenated blood throughout the fish’s body, giving oxygen to the brain. To aid with waste and fat digestion, fish have kidneys and livers, much like humans.

The Inner Organs Of A Fish:

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Fish anatomy (Image Credit: vivofish)
  • Kidney
  • Stomach
  • Bladder in the water
  • Ovary
  • Intestine
  • Urinary Bladder
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • Brain

The liver retains an essential function in eliminating old blood cells, allowing new blood cells to be generated so that the fish’s body may keep obtaining oxygen. The spinal cord of the fish gives structure to the complete body, as it does with every vertebrate. The fish’s spinal column also helps to communicate information about the body to the brain and transport signals from the brain to the rest of the body through a network of nerves and nerve roots that run the spinal column’s length.

One of the organs of a fish is called a swim bladder, which helps them manage their position in the water. The swim bladder fills with gas to assist the fish in maintaining neutral buoyancy and holding their place in the water. Not all fish have swim bladders, however. Fish that don’t have swim bladders may need to keep swimming to maintain their position in the water, or else they may sink to the bottom.

How Do The Gills Of A Fish Work?

As you’ve read, the bodies of fish retain numerous organs in common with humans, all of which need oxygen. Yet, unlike humans, fish don’t have lungs. So if the bodies of fish require oxygen yet don’t have lungs, how do they receive their oxygen? The oxygen of a fish comes in via the gills of the fish. There are clusters of cells in the epithelium, which make up the gills. The epithelium is fed deoxygenated blood via arteries. When water passes through the epithelium membrane, the oxygen dissolved in the water is absorbed by the veins and blood vessels. The carbon dioxide created by cell respiration is expelled during this period.

Many fishes have four gills on each side of their body, composed of interwoven columns of cells. Different fish pump water over their gills in different ways. Frequently, fish push water over their gills by extending the skin flaps that sit over them. Fish open and shut their lips to accomplish this. Lowering the bottom of the mouth allows the skin flaps to spread, letting water in. When they seal their lips, the water is held inside the gills, and the oxygen is drawn out of it. The water is subsequently ejected via an aperture known as the operculum.

The amount of oxygen dissolved in water is substantially lower than the number of oxygen particles in the air. Air is around 210,000 parts per million of oxygen, or about 21 percent oxygen in general. In comparison, water contains roughly 4-8 parts per million of oxygen. Because the oxygen level is so much lower in water than in air, the surface area of a fish’s gills has to be relatively vast to provide it with an acceptable quantity of oxygen. The fact that fish are cold-blooded rather than warm-blooded means they require less oxygen, which helps compensate for the vast surface area needed by the gills. As a result of their slower metabolisms, cold-blooded creatures need less oxygen than their warm-blooded counterparts.

Like rays and sharks, some cartilaginous fish generally have five-gill slits on each side of their body. These gill slits are supported by a cartilaginous gill arch, which helps it retain its integrity. Most species of sharks need to breathe by pushing water over their gills, which they accomplish by continually swimming forward.

Saltwater fish also have to have a system to eliminate excess salt from their bodies. This is because the vast volume of blood required to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide is exposed to hypertonic, salty water. Freshwater fish need to do the reverse. They must maintain their body’s level of salt correctly high by excreting additional water. Fish contain chloride cells to assist manage the salt balance in their body and maintain homeostasis.

How Do Fish Suffocate Underwater?

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Dead shark found underwater in Thailand
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The fact that fish require oxygen to exist implies they may suffocate in a few different ways. Taking a fish out of water will naturally lead it to suffocate, since it cannot extract oxygen from the air with its gills. As for how a fish may drown underwater, this can happen in a few ways.

Much like humans, fish release carbon dioxide when they breathe. If they are in a region where carbon dioxide builds up and not enough new oxygen is dissolved in the water, they might perish. This isn’t likely to occur regularly in nature (though too many plants in a pond might destabilize oxygen levels and kill fish). Still, fish in aquariums or tanks that don’t cycle the water often enough can quickly perish. The oxygen is dissolved into the water from the surface. However, the surface area of a tank is restricted in size. For this reason, air pumps are deployed in tanks to raise deoxygenated water to the surface, where it may be replaced with oxygen.

If the gills of a fish is injured, they won’t be able to breathe as effectively, increasing the risk they would suffocate. Gill damage may develop due to assaults from other predatory marine organisms or chemical damage from chemicals like nitrates or ammonia.

There’s one more way a fish may suffocate underwater. Species of fish that depend on ram ventilation, swimming forward to force water through their gills, may perish if they can’t move forward in the water anymore. If the fish gets stuck or is pulled back through the water, it will suffocate. Those who hunt sharks occasionally kill them by pulling them back towards shore, smothering them.

So although fish aren’t truly capable of drowning, they may perish from lack of oxygen. Remember that if you have any fish at home or plan to obtain any fish.

Wrapping Up

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Dead fish floating on the surface of the water
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Can fish drown? Absolutely. And having your fish drowning is undoubtedly not an excellent experience.

Keep dissolved oxygen levels high in your aquarium by having lots of water movement and contact with air near the surface. You won’t have to observe what happens when fish drown if you maintain water out for parasites and diseases and stay clear of fish with changed bodies.

We’d love to hear from you if you have any more questions on why fish need oxygen, how fish may drown, or the way air and water interact.

Sign of low oxygen in the water

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Goldfish in aquarium.Close-up. Goldfish with a white tail.
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If you’re reading this, you’re presumably in the fishkeeping hobby. And that means you want to learn more about keeping your fish healthy. One method of accomplishing that is ensuring your fish has adequate water in their fish aquariums.

There are specific indications to look for in your fish to realize that there’s not enough oxygen in your aquarium.

  • Labored breathing
  • Rapid gill movement
  • Eating less than usual.
  • Moving around more petite than usual
  • Spending more time near the surface of the water and gasping

If you observe any of these indicators in your fish, they’re on the point of suffocating, and action must be done promptly.

Immediately change up to 50 percent of the water to supply extra oxygen in the water. After this emergency step has been performed, you’ll need to add some aerators, replace filters or powerheads with something with a more potent motor (producing more air movement), and assess your stocking procedures.

The most prevalent reason for low oxygen levels is overpopulation in the fish tank. This implies you’ll need to remove fish from your aquarium and provide them with a new home.

What cause low oxygen levels?

There are several reasons for low oxygen levels in an aquarium. As previously stated, the most typical reason for this problem is an overcrowded fish tank. This signifies too many fish in too small an area.

Just as in a submarine, spacecraft, or another air-tight area, there is limited oxygen for people to share. A fish tank has only so much oxygen to go around.

Other explanations for low oxygen levels include:

  • Live plants, particularly in dark tanks
  • Low light levels
  • Temperatures in the water have increased.
  • Certain compounds
  • Excess waste
  • Algae bloom
  • Exhumed plants
  • There is little or no water movement.

Can there be too much oxygen in the water?

Surprisingly, yes, there may be too much oxygen in a fish tank, as well. Excessive levels might cause death in fish as well. They must have a balance of oxygen and hydrogen in their water to exist.

Also Read: Do Sharks Eat Dolphins?

Reference

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