Can Fish Drown? Everything That You Should Know

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can a fish drown

Approximately 236,000 people drown each year in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of course, humans aren’t the only animals that might cause death if they get caught in water with no way out.

Dogs, snakes, birds, and various other species can also expire if they become trapped in water with no way out. In contrast, what about fish and other marine animals, do you suppose? Is it possible for organisms that dwell in water to suffocate if they are entirely immersed in it?

Water travels through the gills of most fish, enabling them to take in air and survive. If the fish’s gills are hurt or blocked from letting water pass through, it is possible that the fish could die. They don’t drown because they don’t eat the water. They do succumb to a lack of oxygen due to the water.


Can Fish Drown In Water?


Drought, algae blooms, overpopulation, and persistent temperature rises are all possible reasons for low oxygen levels in the water. Drought and algae blooms are two more probable reasons for low oxygen levels.

Other causes, in addition to viral diseases and parasites, may cause fish mortality. Fish indeed die from toxicity; however, it is a significantly less prevalent cause of fish death.

Related guide: What is overfishing? – what is it a very serious problem?


The Organs Fish Use To Breathe – Anatomy Of A Typical Fish


Fish gills are specialized organs that enable fish to breathe while swimming underwater. Gills: Most fish use gills to exchange gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Gill covers (operculum) are on both sides of the pharynx windpipe in the throat to protect the gills from getting dirty. Gills are tissue structures that seem like tiny threads, protein structures known as filaments.

Anatomy Of A Typical Fish
@Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

Fishes exist in various shapes and sizes, with many having unique adaptations. Body components varied in form, size, and structure allow different fishes to live in multiple settings or areas of the same environment depending on their needs.

The external anatomy of a fish may disclose a great deal about the environment in which it lives and the way it feeds. Bony fishes, such as perch, are the most frequent kind found in the wild.

Consequently, people often use the phrases perch when describing a general fish form-like or similar when describing a general fish form.

When it comes to the perch’s streamlined, torpedo-shaped body, scientists use “fusiform” to describe it. The compressor is a term that refers to being laterally flattened. Depressiform refers to a flattened dorso-ventrally surface.

More reading: A simple guide to know do fish sleep?


The Main Reasons A Fish Can Drown In Water


Water passes through the gills of most fish, allowing them to breathe. A fish can die when its gills have been damaged, or water cannot get through them.

They don’t technically drown since they don’t inhale the water, but they do succumb to a lack of oxygen due to their exposure. Some forms of fishing equipment, such as certain types of hooks, may cause injury to the gills.


#1- Depth And Temperature


Coldwater will contain more dissolved oxygen than warm water, while warm water will store less oxygen than cold water.

If there is no ice in the air and water exchange, dissolved oxygen concentration will be high when low surface water temperatures. If there is ice in air and water exchange, it will be soft when surface water temperatures are high.

Seasons, elevations, and latitudes significantly impact the amount of dissolved oxygen accessible in the water column at any one time. Salinity will also affect the concentrations of freshwater in comparison to saltwater systems.

It is one of the primary reasons people are concerned about the Earth’s average temperature increasing; as the atmosphere heats, surface waters will warm, slowing the flow of oxygen between them.

Those creatures that need oxygen to exist may find themselves in a situation where dissolved oxygen levels are decreasing.


#2- Photosynthesis


Finally, much as trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen via photosynthesis, aquatic plants and vegetation do the same while digesting their food sources, similar to how trees do it.

A kind of autotrophic plankton known as phytoplankton is essential because it can perform photosynthesis 24 hours a day. It helps surface waters have more dissolved oxygen.

Fish may have more difficulty acquiring adequate oxygen in warm water than in cold water during the summer months because warm water contains less dissolved oxygen than cold water.

Other species, such as the algae that bloom in the summer and the bacteria that break down organic things, need oxygen to exist as humans and other animals.

At night, when photosynthesis pauses, the algae and other creatures continue to respire, reducing the amount of oxygen available to them and the surrounding environment.


#3- Too Much Plant & Animal Waste


Excess trash might have a negative influence on the performance of your tank. More time spent in the water allowing plant and animal waste to decompose will further advance the decomposition process.

While this may not seem like a big concern, decomposition necessitates the presence of dissolved oxygen. Too much degradation, like a thriving algae bloom, may deny your fish of oxygen, which they need to survive.

image of four colorful fish in tank

Maintain the tank’s cleanliness and regularly use a gravel vacuum to remove garbage from the tank. It’s also a good idea to periodically replace the water in your aquarium.

Massive fish die-offs are caused by sudden changes in water temperature, pH level, salinity, and, in some instances, chloride levels (if tap water hasn’t been allowed to stand for 48 hours before being used).

Fish are seldom challenged with out-of-balance water parameters in a well-established tank that undergoes regular water changes.


#4- High Water Temperatures


Many new fish owners who wonder, “Can fish drown?” are entirely ignorant of this probable cause of fish mortality, which is often overlooked—keeping monitoring of water variables such as temperature is crucial at all times, especially in colder climates. In addition to stressing out fish, large temperature swings may cause oxygen levels to vary in the water.

Compared to cold water, warmer water contains less dissolved oxygen due to the increased temperature. Higher-than-normal water surface temperatures reduce the efficiency of gas exchange between the water and the air, resulting in a change in the chemistry of the water.

Warm water has less dissolved oxygen than cold water, which means that fish may have difficulty acquiring adequate oxygen during the summer months.

As a result, during warm summer evenings,—keeping when algal blooms occur, the dissolved oxygen content in the water might drop too low for the fish to survive, resulting in a fish die-off.


#5- Parasites And Diseases


Parasitic diseases such as Ichthyophonus, Nanophyetus salmincola, and whirling disorders, all caused by parasites in the water, pose a threat to the fishing industry.

It is known that “Ichthyophonus” is one of the most important parasites of wild marine fishes. It has had a significant impact on the populations of these species throughout the preceding century.

A clamped or drooping fin may indicate that the fish is losing weight due to this condition. In some instances, tropical fish may acquire white patches on their skin or gills due to rubbing against water plants, ornaments, or stones in their aquarium.

Some tropical fish, particularly during the warmer months, seem to be bloated. Poor water quality is the primary reason for spreading most parasite illnesses globally.


#6- Signs Of Low Oxygen In The Water


They will swim less aggressively and even feed less often due to this. Fish will begin to exhibit laborious breathing and more rapid gill motions as oxygen levels in the water continue to plummet.

The fish needs to acquire adequate oxygen bypassing far more oxygen is more water over their gills. Fish need oxygen to survive to carry out cellular respiration.

image of cleaning fish tank with magnetic cleaner

They will perish if they do not get enough oxygen because they will not respire and make energy. Fish need oxygen to breathe via their gills in the same way that people require oxygen to breathe through their noses and into their lungs.

Most fish live via their gills. If the gills are injured or blocked, the fish might suffocate. They are not drowning since they do not inhale water, but they are dying of oxygen deficiency. Some fishing gear, including hooks, may harm the gills.


#7- Poor Water Movement


Water in nature is oxygenated due to the continual movement of the water in the environment. The infusion of oxygen into the water will be performed by colliding waves, splashes, and training under the water’s surface. It is essential to have the capacity to shift the surface!

As a result, aquariums help to replenish the amount of dissolved oxygen. Your filter works exceptionally hard to stir up the surface of the water and keep things running smoothly.

If the water gets excessively stagnant, it is nearly guaranteed that lower oxygen levels will be seen. It is often the case that the weakest sections of the water column are the first to face the repercussions of pollution.

The flow from your filter return serves several functions, including churning the water and dispersing oxygen throughout the tank.

Another read: What is magnet fishing?


#8- Algae Blooms Can Be A Nightmare


It may be a headache to deal with algal blooms when they occur. They seem to appear out of nowhere and may soon transform your aquarium into a noxious green shambles.

Unfortunately, algal blooms may be harmful to the health of your fish as well as to the environment. Bacterial populations multiply at an alarming pace. The algae eat all available oxygen with each death and decomposition, leaving just a tiny amount for your fish to consume.

fish swimming with algae

Even if the algae die off, it will take a while for the oxygen levels to return to normal. Blooms have a significant impact on the chemistry of water.

Some algae species may even create poisons that are lethal to humans! Algae blooms are often caused by an overabundance of nutrients in the water. In many situations, it is the result of overeating.


#9- Overcrowding


Aquarists always tell people not to put too many fish in their tanks. It’s not just about the fish’s comfort and stress. Packing too many fish into a small space is a sure way to get into trouble.

Earlier, I said that there is only so much oxygen in the world to go around. Fish must use as much water as possible to get the oxygen they need to live. When there are too many fish in a habitat, the amount of oxygen available quickly runs out.

image of a fish tank with black stipes fish

Before you know it, the fish will be breathing hard and moving slowly. One by one, the fish will start to die from drowning or suffocation. Overcrowding is terrible, so try to avoid it at all costs.

Make sure you know how much space each fish needs. Then, try to get a giant tank if possible. If you’re unsure, take some fish out and put them in a different tank! It’s better to have fewer fish than to risk health issues.


#11- Small Water Surface Area


The flow of water on the surface, as previously said, contributes significantly to the generation of dissolved oxygen throughout the surrounding environment.

Your fish may drown due to dehydration if your tank is too small or lacks adequate surface area. If your tank is too small or lacks sufficient surface area, the oxygen levels may decrease fast.

For this reason, keeping fish in small containers or vases may be pretty dangerous to them. Because they breathe ambient air, bettas and other labyrinth fish, such as the betta, may thrive in captivity.

On the other hand, Standard fish will suffer from low oxygen levels from the beginning of their lives! Ensure that if you opt to use a small bowl, it is fitted with an air pump and a bladder to guarantee that the water is adequately oxygenated.


Difference Between Drowning And Suffocating


Drown and suffocate are sometimes used interchangeably, even though they have two distinct meanings. To drown implies dying due to a lack of oxygen caused by breathing water, which is most often the result of being immersed in water.

Death occurs due to a shortage of oxygen or the inability to take insufficient oxygen. A fish can die when its gills have been damaged, or water cannot get through them.

They don’t technically drown since they don’t inhale the water, but they do succumb to a lack of oxygen due to their exposure.

Although some fish can breathe on land by taking in oxygen from the air, most fish suffocate and die when brought out of water.

When fish are brought out of the water, their gill arches collapse, resulting in their blood vessels no longer being exposed to oxygen in the air.


How To Improve Oxygen Levels In An Aquarium


In an emergency, you may quickly raise the oxygen level in your aquarium by simply pouring some aquarium water into a jar from a safe height using a funnel. You may also do a significant water change, up to 50% of the total volume of water in the tank, to boost the amount of oxygen.


#1- Increase The Aquarium Surface Area


The most effective method of increasing oxygen in an aquarium is to increase the surface area of the tank. Increase the agitation of the surface or the flow of water on the surface.

More oxygen may dissolve, and more carbon dioxide can escape due to this process. You may also provide a continuous stream of fresh oxygen by adding an air pump.

In an emergency, you may quickly raise the oxygen level in your aquarium by simply pouring some aquarium water into a jar from a safe height using a funnel.

You may also do a significant water change, up to 50% of the total volume of water in the tank, to boost the amount of oxygen.

Using an air pump to provide a long-term solution for low oxygen levels is one step in achieving this goal. HOB filters and spray bars are two more options for you to consider.


#2- Boost Water Movement


Installing a powerhead might help increase the circulation of water in your system. The specialist should install the powerhead so that water is pushed from the rear of the tank and strikes the aquarium’s front glass. The water flow pattern of the filter will be improved as a consequence of this modification.

This method allows water to be flushed into every section of the tank, which is beneficial in maintaining a healthy aquarium. Installing a powerhead might help increase the circulation of water in your system.

The powerhead should be set up so that water is pushed from the back of the tank and hits the aquarium’s front glass or glass.

The water flow pattern of the filter will be improved as a consequence of this modification. This method allows water to be flushed into every section of the tank, which is beneficial in maintaining a healthy aquarium.


#3- Large Water Change


Water at higher temperatures cannot contain as much oxygen as water at lower temperatures. Performing a water change with cooler water will aid in the introduction of new oxygen.

The most effective method of increasing oxygen in an aquarium is to increase the surface area of the tank. Increase the agitation of the surface or the flow of water on the surface.

More oxygen may dissolve, and more carbon dioxide can escape due to this process. You may also provide a continuous stream of fresh oxygen by adding an air pump.

The use of a HOB filter, a spray bar, or an air pump are all options for permanently addressing low oxygen levels in the fish tank. A fountain is a great way to do this for people who want to improve their pond’s quality and quantity of oxygen.


#4- Use A HOB filter


HOB filters are excellent for increasing the amount of oxygen in your aquarium. They are very compact and straightforward to use.

It is anticipated that the filtered water from the HOB filter would fall from a height that will assist in aerating the water. Simple HOB (hang on back) filters will provide enough aeration for most aquariums on the market.

Numerous filters include outputs that drop the water to the tank’s surface and, as a result, generate sufficient surface agitation. The most effective method of increasing oxygen in an aquarium is to increase the surface area of the tank.

Increase the turmoil of the surface or the flow of water on the surface. More oxygen may dissolve, and more carbon dioxide can escape due to this process. You may also provide a continuous stream of fresh oxygen by adding an air pump.


#5- Use Air Pump


Placing your power filter slightly above the water level will enable the flow to circulate the water at the surface and guarantee sufficient surface agitation.

The next best solution if this is not an option (for example, because you do not use a power filter or because the sound is too loud) is an air pump.

Carbon dioxide will be pushed to the top of the water by the steady flow of bubbles, creating agitation and permitting gas exchange.

Using an air pump continuously throughout the day is not recommended if you have a planted aquarium and provide Co2 to your aquarium for plant health. It’s counter-productive to do so.

Turn on the air pump at night to oxygenate the tank since plants don’t need carbon dioxide during the nighttime period.


Final Verdict:

Is it possible for fish to drown? Absolutely. And seeing your fish drown is not a pleasant experience. Increase the amount of dissolved oxygen in your aquarium by allowing for plenty of water circulation and exchange with air at the surface of the water.

Maintaining proper water conditions, keeping an eye out for parasites and illnesses, and avoiding fish with changed bodies can help to ensure that you do not have to go through what occurs when fish drown.

Other marine species, such as turtles and dolphins, get their oxygen the same way humans do – they take it in via the air. However, they can only do so after rising to the surface. If caught in fishing equipment underwater, they will not fish anymore.


Frequently Asked Questions

#1 – How To Prevent Low Oxygen In Water?

Install an aerator- Aerators aid in the water circulation in a pond from the bottom to the top, minimizing stratification and evaporation.

Additionally, they enhance the amount of oxygen available in the water. Plant aquatic plants native to the area- Aquatic submerged plants emit oxygen, which helps raise the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

#2 – Can fish drown if they stop swimming?

On the other hand, the ordinary fish can breathe very well both in motion and at rest, as long as the water is suitably oxygenated, which it is.

They will not perish if they stop swimming for a while. To breathe and live, fish need to be in an environment with sufficient oxygenation.

#3 – How long does it take for a fish to drown?

An injured or water-logged fish’s gills have the potential to cause death. They don’t technically drown since they don’t inhale the water, but they do succumb to a lack of oxygen due to their exposure. Some forms of fishing equipment, such as certain types of hooks, may cause injury to the gills.

#4 – Can a fish drown if pulled backward?

Drowning is the result of inhaling a liquid into the lungs. Because fish have gills, they wouldn’t drown but suffocate to death, so they would not drown.

When some fish are swimming, they can contaminate buccal pump water through their mouths and out of their gill slits. It would not work if the fish were being pulled backward in their swimming motion.

#5 – Can a betta fish drown?

Yes, even labyrinth fish such as bettas sometimes seem to be drowning, but these fish suffocate rather than water.

On the other hand, if your tank has adequate circulation and sufficient oxygen, the chances of your fish dying from suffocation are very low. Oxygen in the water will be inaccessible if one or both of these organisms is injured.

#6 – Is it possible for fish to drown if the water current is too strong?

Even when they are not migrating, many fish will swim against the current. Trout will swim against the current of the stream to maintain their position.

They do this while keeping an eye out for small insects, worms, and other food that may drift past on the stream. They do not have to swim about, and changing their meal is a convenient technique for them to catch food.

#7 – How do fish survive waterfalls?

On the other hand, humans have a better chance of surviving the dive than fish.

Because they spend their whole lives underwater, they are far more malleable and lighter than humans, and as a result, they are better equipped to withstand the dive.

An air bubble cushion lies at the bottom of the falls, which helps cushion the impact of their descent.

#8 – Can fish drown in the wrong zone?

Only so much oxygen can be equally distributed in any tank, even the best-kept ones. For fish to survive, their oxygen levels must be replenished regularly.

Fish may drown if the oxygen levels in their environment get too low. Anything with a PPM of less than two is regarded to be in the danger zone.

#9 – Can a fish survive in milk?

Fish can swim in milk, but they will not live in it for an extended length of time. Other ions present in milk are significantly more than those found in water.

The tonicity of the solution would be detrimental to the survival of the fish. Even though the milk primarily contains water, it makes little difference since the balance is sensitive.

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