Can Fish Drown in Water the same way humans drown underwater?

Fish get their oxygen directly from the water. They have organs called gills that take oxygen out of the water, just as your lungs take oxygen out of the air. But water can run out of oxygen, just as air can.

So fish can suffocate in water, which means they can drown in water.

These drownings occur most often in small ponds that dry up. All the fish that live in the pond are crowded into the remaining water, where they use up all the oxygen in the water, then drown. Fish can also drown if their gills are damaged in a collision with an underwater plant or in a fight with other sea creatures.

Weather conditions also account for some drownings. For example, when some fish realize that oxygen supply in the water is getting very low, they rise to the surface and suck air into a sac-like organ called the air bladder.

The fish can then take oxygen out of this air instead of directly out of the water. But in cold weather, when the surface of the water is frozen, the fish can’t reach that air, and so they drown.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

14 thoughts on “Can Fish Drown in Water the same way humans drown underwater?”

  1. What? thats not drowning thats dieing and every one knows when a fish dies they float upside down and lay there-

  2. Here’s a simple answer: Fish don’t ‘drown’ because ‘drown’ means “to die under water or other liquid of suffocation” and air is not a liquid. Fish don’t ‘asphyxiate’ either (unless they kill another fish) – improper English. But a word that does seem to work, if the fish dies of lack of oxygen because its gills are not efficient at extracting oxygen from the air, is ‘suffocate’: “deprive of oxygen by any means, make unable to breathe”– The fish suffocated.

  3. Pete, the fish in the scenario is in water. I would agree that if it was out of the water, it would suffocate. However, your definition of drowning as “to die underwater or other liquid of suffocation.” So a fish in water that is deprived of oxygen would truly drown.

    I grew up on a man-made lake, where the local power company would use the dam to draw down the lake each year while still iced in. When fish were trapped in shallow areas, they would use up the available oxygen and we would see mass drownings.

  4. People, H2O does NOT mean fish can actually break the bond of the hydrogen atoms and get oxygen from water. You would need huge amounts of energy to due that. It is also a exothermic reaction (hint:lots of released energy) to do that and would result in a dead fish. H2O is NOT O2.

  5. Drowning actually is suffocation (deprivation of oxygen) under a fluid. Water, the atmosphere, and any liquid or gas are fluids. So if fish don’t get enough oxygen (even underwater), they drown.

  6. Have any of you actually witnessed a fish drown?
    If the gills aren’t properly functioning, the water that is supposed to filter out through them has no where to go, therefore causing the fish to literally DROWN! They will try sticking their head above water to get air, in turn coughing up the water that should of been filtered through the gills………..THEY DROWN!

  7. Fish cannot drown. Humans Drown when water fills the lungs, and so oxygen cant get in. Fish, however, breathe through water passing through their gills, for example sharks will “drown if they stop moving,” but this isn’t drowning. For a fish it is more of suffocation, because they cant get the water through their gills. there is a difference.

  8. Drowning is defined as respiratory impairment from being in or under a liquid. Air is not a liquid. Fish can’t drown in water. They can drown in oil.

  9. The answer lies within the definition. To drown, is to suffer respiratory impairment as a result of being submerged in a liquid. The definition does not hold any regard to whether the liquid is oxygen rich or poor, or whether it contains any other element. Suffocation is respiratory impairment from the removal or significant reduction of a particular element, oxygen. Permanent submersion in water of a mammal will cause death, it doesn’t matter how much oxygen is in the water. This is the definition of drowning.

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