December 22

Can A Fish Drown? The Answer Is Not As Easy As You May Think


It is hard to imagine fish ever drowning, given that they must remain submerged in water in order to live and breathe. However, the questions, “Ca fish drown?” or C” Can fish drown in a tank?” still remain, and the answers are not as simple as one might anticipate. So, let’s discuss every about fish drowning.

Do Fish Have Lungs?

fish swimming

Generally speaking, fish do not have lungs. However, certain species of fish do not have gills along both sides of their bodies, despite the fact that this feature is shared by the majority of the fish you will ever see or read about.

One category of fish is referred to as the Lungfishes. As you might have guessed from the name, they do not have gills but rather lungs that allow them to breathe air.

Can Fish Actually Drown?

Since the definition of “to drown” is “to die or be killed by immersion in liquid,” fish are unable to experience what is known as “drowning.” However, they are at risk of suffocation if the fresh water in which they live does not have enough dissolved oxygen, which can result from eutrophication (an excessive amount of nutrients) or drought.

So, fish death due to lack of oxygen may be termed fish drowning. Otherwise, fish can never be drowned. Let’s have a look at the reasons which lead to fish drowning.

  • Damaged Gills

If a fish’s gills get injured, the fish can suffocate. This might have been caused by, for example, coming into touch with fishing equipment, or it could have been the consequence of a conflict with a predator.

The disease is another potential cause; bacteria can attach themselves to the gills, preventing them from functioning correctly as oxygen filters.

  • Live Plants Taking Up Oxygen

Suffocation brought on by an inadequate supply of dissolved oxygen is the primary reason for the death of fish. The vast majority of dissolved oxygen is created via photosynthesis, carried out by algae and other aquatic plants.

However, if there is less photosynthesis and more living plants are present, the live plants’ oxygen will be used, and the fish might perish due to the lack of oxygen.

  • Overcrowding

The fish are put under unnecessary stress, which slows their development rates and speeds up the spread of illness, both of which ultimately result in the fish’s demise. Fish can suffocate or drown, and it’s essential to know the difference between them and how they occur.

Even though it is a somewhat gloomy scenario, imagine the following: You were lucky enough to win a goldfish at the fair. You will receive the fish in a plastic bag containing air and water in about equal proportions. You decide not to hurry back to your house since you are having such a good time at the festival.

Unfortunately, by the time you get back home, your goldfish died. This happens due to a lack of oxygen in their environment (This also answers, can goldfish drown?). The same thing is likely to occur if you put a fish in a bowl that does not have a filter and does not include any living plants.

But does this indicate that your fish has passed away from drowning? Or did it suffocate? There is a nuanced distinction; if you are aware of it, you will comprehend why people die in water, whereas fish do it in the air. Once you know this distinction, you will understand how people drown.

When the lungs get saturated with water and cannot take in oxygen, this is the medical definition of drowning. Fish, on the other hand, should not behave this way since they have gills. Because of this, when a fish is submerged in water and exhausts its supply of oxygen, it is more accurate to say that it is asphyxiating or suffocating than drowning.

The Organs Fish Use To Breathe

fish swimming

    • Gills

    Gills are the breathing organs used by the vast majority of fish species. Gills are a group of specialized organs that are located on either side of the skull of certain animals. In most cases, you will be able to see your fish when they exhale while they are in your tank.

    The gills have the appearance of crimson arches. The look is sometimes compared to that of a vehicle radiator due to the presence of many minute filaments and lamellae.

    Most species have eight gills total, four on each side of the body. However, this number might shift somewhat from one species to the next depending on the particulars of the population.

    In any case, the gills are the organs responsible for the intricate exchange of gases that allows fish to use the dissolved oxygen necessary for their life.

    • Lungs

    Some types of fish breathe air through their lungs. They were ubiquitous and were found in extensive networks of freshwater lakes and rivers many millennia ago.

    Despite this, it is still a very tiny population. Lungfish are able to adjust to the shifting environmental circumstances of drying lakebeds because of the fact that they breathe air. In order to survive periods of drought, they dig burrows in the substrate and go into a condition that is similar to hibernation.

    How Do The Gills Of A Fish Work?

    fish swimming

    Gills are branching organs that are found on the side of fish heads. These organs contain an extremely high number of capillaries, which are very small blood veins. When a fish opens its mouth, water flows over its gills, and the oxygen-rich blood in its capillaries absorbs oxygen from the water as it passes through the gills.

    The oxygen is then distributed throughout the fish’s body through blood circulation, just as it is in humans. The gills of every bony fish are covered by a bony plate known as an operculum, which may open and close to protect them.

    Signs Of Low Oxygen In Water

    If there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water, then aquatic creatures, especially fish, will not be able to live, and the water quality will suffer. The following are some indications that the water has a low oxygen content:

    •   Uneasy and difficulty breathing
    •   Rapid gill motions
    •   Fish gasping at the water’s surface
    •   Foul odors are caused by the decomposition of organic substances, most notably fish feces, plants, and sludge.
    •   The rapid development of algae (It may be an indication of insufficient aeration and filtration in the water)

    Reasons For Low Oxygen Levels In The Water

    Here are all causes of low oxygen levels in water:

    • Chemical Treatments

    Chemicals in the water can alter oxygen levels. The capacity of water to transport dissolved oxygen can be affected by the presence of many toxic chemicals. Be cautious to check the labels of any prospective water additives for warnings before using them in your pond/aquarium.

    Fish medicines that include chemicals should also be used cautiously; therefore, raising the water’s circulation rate is something to think about. If water chemistry has unfavorable impacts, an air pump can help you get around them.

    • Small Water Surface Area

    Fish can drown if there isn’t enough oxygen in the tank, which can happen if the tank is too small or doesn’t have enough surface area.

    This is why you shouldn’t keep fish in delicate containers like bowls or vases. The betta and other labyrinth fish are able to survive thanks to their ability to breathe atmospheric air. However, common fish will quickly die from a lack of oxygen.

    Using a tiny bowl is OK, but you’ll need an air pump and bladder to get some oxygen into the water.

    • Overcrowding

    Expert aquarists usually warn newcomers about Overcrowding, and for a good reason. It’s not just a case of fish ease or stress. Overcrowding an aquarium with fish is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Oxygen is a scarce resource. So, fish must take in as much oxygen-rich water as possible. Having excessive fish in a given area can quickly deplete the oxygen supply.

    Eventually, you’ll see the fish breathing heavily and moving slowly. Slowly but surely, the fish will begin dying off from exposure or drowning.

    • Poor Water Movement

    The constant motion found in nature allows the water to pick up oxygen. Ocean oxygen is replenished through wave action, splashes, and currents. Surface motion is critical!

    Dissolved oxygen in aquariums is replenished in this way. In this way, your filter helps to agitate the surface and keep the flow going. Stagnant water leads to low oxygen levels.

    • Algae Blooms

    It may be a significant hassle to manage algae blooms. They appear out of nowhere and may rapidly make your aquarium a green muddle. Algae blooms are harmful to humans but may also harm your fish. Bacteria thrive and multiply quickly in these blooms. Because the algae take up all the oxygen as it decays, your fish will have very little to breathe.

    Oxygen levels still take some time to return to normal once the algae die off. Also, Algae Blooms significantly impact the chemical makeup of water and produce toxins that are lethal to fish.

    • High Water Temperatures

    There is a direct correlation between temperature and dissolved oxygen levels, so as the water temperature rises, dissolved oxygen levels fall.

    Fish, being cold-blooded, must maintain their body temperature by absorbing and releasing heat from the water. The fish in a given body of water will increase their oxygen consumption and metabolic rate as the temperature of the water rises.

    Deep bodies of water, such as ponds and lakes, stratify throughout the hot summer months and on hot summer days. During this period, the density of the water at or near the surface is lower because it is warmer than the water at greater depths.

    Dissolved oxygen levels drop as summer progresses because deeper water becomes stagnant. This becomes problematic when the surface water layer cools due to precipitation or cooler air and combines with the oxygen-poor water underneath. This would be disastrous for fish populations and might even lead to extinction.

    • Lighting & Plant Life

    An aquarium with plants is an excellent method to add oxygen to the water. On the other hand, they only work if the plants are given an ideal habitat to flourish in.

    The failure to properly account for light is a common pitfall for novice aquarists. Light is essential for the photosynthesis and growth of aquatic plants. In this method, carbon dioxide is used, and dissolved oxygen is created.

    Plants will rapidly use all available oxygen in a dark tank. The organism enters a “survival mode,” at which point it consumes oxygen. Low-light plant growth over extended periods can deplete oxygen levels, harming fish. So, just make sure there’s adequate light.

    • Too Much Plant & Animal Waste

    Animal waste and too much plant concentration reduce the quantity of dissolved oxygen in canals, rivers, and other waterway systems. So, where animal waste is present, the fish amount is very low.

    How To Improve Oxygen Levels In An Aquarium?

    Increasing the water circulation in a fish tank is the quickest approach to raising the oxygen levels since this enables more oxygen to dissolve and more carbon dioxide to be released. An air pump, frequent water changes, stirring the water by hand, or a nearby fan are all simple ways to do this.

    Can A Fish Drown If Pulled Backward?

    Since fish have gills, they are unable to drown and instead die from asphyxia. Although some have the ability to buccal push water via the mouth and out the gill slits, this process is ineffective if the fish is being pulled backward.

    Wrapping Up

    Removing a fish from its natural environment is analogous to placing a human in the water. In both cases, the subject has trouble breathing in the new environment.

    The efficiency of gills and lungs is maximized in their respective environments; therefore, it seems sensible that they would perform better in water or air, respectively.

    By analyzing the meaning of the term “drown,” we learn that fish do not die because of water inhalation. So, while fish can’t actually drown, they can experience something quite similar if they suddenly run out of oxygen in the water.


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