Can fish drown?

This brief guide will address the search query: “Can fish drown?” Also, we’ll explore how fish breathe and what circumstances are potentially life-threatening for fish. 

Can fish drown? 

Fish cannot drown in the strict sense. While they don’t have lungs for water to enter in and cause them to drown, they can die if they don’t carry out a gas exchange in their gills.

While not technically drowning, if fish stop moving through water and taking in oxygenated water into their gills, they can die of asphyxiation. 

Fish rely on oxygen that is dissolved in water in the form of inclusions to breathe and oxygenate their organs and tissues. Without it, they can die of ischemia (asphyxiation), and either sink or float to the surface.  

For example, great white sharks cannot be kept in captivity, as they have to swim very large distances and maintain their bodies in constant motion, lest their gills not receive a sufficient supply of oxygen. 

Attractions that have attempted to keep great white sharks in captivity discovered that they often bumped into the walls of their enclosures, and grew inhibited. They stopped swimming, and as a result, they died of asphyxiation. 

How do fish breathe? 

Fish breathe using a special organ known as gills. These have a similar function to lungs, only they’re suited to extracting oxygen (from minuscule bubbles) from water, and of course, they swap carbon dioxide in exchange for oxygen. 

Shape-wise, gills resemble branches and they contain many small blood vessels, which when they’re covered in water, collect oxygen that’s dissolved in it. This freshly oxygenated blood circulates through the fish’s body when the heart pumps it through other blood vessels, and as a result, a fish’s tissues and vital organs are oxygenated.

Girls are not exclusive to fish, as other sea creatures also have them such as mollusks and crustaceans. It is, therefore, valid to infer the girls indicate that an animal is better suited to breathing underwater.

However, oxygen is more abundant out of the water than within it. This means that kills require copious amounts of oxygenated water for fish to harvest the exact amount they need to carry out their bodily functions. Therefore gills are a very efficient organ when it comes to breathing. 

What circumstances are potentially life-threatening for fish? 

Fish can die if they’re immobilized and exposed to water that has a low oxygen concentration. On a large scale, water in the oceans that has very low oxygen concentrations makes for inhospitable environments for fish and other aquatic animals that rely on dissolved oxygen to survive.

This constitutes an environmental problem. Regions known as dead Ocean zones are places that are not only inhospitable but also essentially barren of all life.

Dead zones seem to be expanding, thanks to rising temperatures and industrial runoff which causes acidification of oceans. To further our troubles, the amount of oxygen that can be dissolved in water is inversely proportional to the temperature of the water. This means that heating oceans will contain less oxygen for fish and other organisms to survive in.

Ultimately, immediate action must be taken to reduce the expansion of ocean dead zones and help curb the rising temperatures that affect our oceans and the life forms that depend on them.

Another problem fish are faced with is microplastics. Microplastics, as their name indicates, are minuscule pieces of synthetic polymers, which break down into smaller pieces, but do not degrade for very long periods. 

These pieces of plastic can lodge themselves in their gills, and be broken down into particles that can find their way into their bloodstream, delivering them to their organs and tissues. As a result, many types of fish that are sourced from oceans are contaminated with microplastic. 

Microplastics also have detrimental effects on human health, as they can trigger chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and other types of damage that can have long-term side effects. 

Oxidative damage to cells is associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases and disorders such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, circulatory problems, liver disease, and cognitive disorders. 

We encourage our readers to practice good stewardship of the available resources. This may include several measures such as cutting out the consumption of single-use plastics and consuming products that are from supply chains with more sustainable practices. 

While it may seem like a far cry, we also encourage our readers to help generate discussions regarding the importance of preserving our resources. 

People can also express their concerns to their elected representatives, who can take legislative action against practices that endanger fish and other animals in the ocean, as well as other environments. 


In this brief guide, we have addressed the search query: “Can fish drown?” Also, we have explored how fish breathe and what circumstances are potentially life-threatening for fish.