MYTH-BUSTER: Do Fish Drown?

Do fish drown? The answer is a not-so-simple yes. Truth be told, “drown” probably isn’t the best word to use. Suffocate is probably the best substitute.

You see, the word “drown” doesn’t work because when you drown, water fills your lungs so much that you can no longer breath. The problem is, fish need water to survive. On the other hand, when someone or something asphyxiates, they were deprived of oxygen for so long that they died. This is how fish “drown.”

Ever wonder why your goldfish died in under a week? If this isn’t the case for you, then your goldfish probably lived in a tank with a water filter. The purpose of a water filter is to not only remove the fish food and waste from the water, but to also replenish the water with oxygen.

New question, do fish breath? No, well at least not in the same way humans do. Unlike humans, fish don’t have lungs, instead, they have gills. Both lungs and gills filter something so that they can get oxygen. Lungs filter air so that your body keeps the oxygen but releases carbon dioxide (when you exhale). Similarly, a fish’s gills filter water so that it keeps the oxygen but, since that oxygen is dissolved in the water, a fish also has special veins and blood vessels that absorb only the oxygen.

Fish can “drown” three different ways. Have you heard that you can kill a shark by pulling it backwards? If so, it’s true, you can. When a fish or shark, swims forward, water is pushed to their gills allowing them to breath. Meaning, when a fish or shark is pulled backwards, they suffocate. This most commonly happens when fish are caught in fishing nets. Another way is if the water doesn’t have enough oxygen. Generally, this only happens to pet fish or when they are in an aquarium with no filter. Lastly, if for some reason a fish’s gills are damaged the fish may die from the inability to filter through the water and get oxygen.

All in all, do fish drown? Not quite, but they can die from underwater suffocation. Big thanks to for all of the information.


By: Peyton Erb

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