Do hurricanes affect fish?

A hurricane churns the surface of the ocean, but does a hurricane affect fish? The answer depends on whether the fish are far out at sea, or closer to shore.

Out at sea, fish that live near the ocean surface do feel turbulence from a passing hurricane. Research indicates the fish may avoid the washing-machine motion by swimming a little deeper. But in general, for a fish out at sea, a hurricane is no big deal.

Can experts predict the path of a hurricane?

On the other hand, in coastal areas hurricanes have much more impact on fish. For example, sometimes a hurricane blows seawater toward the shore. That makes the coastal wetlands saltier than normal, which can attract fish that usually live in the open ocean.

Other times, a hurricane brings heavy rain, and fresh water floods the coast. This fresh water is less dense than the salt water, so it floats on sea water like salad oil on vinegar. The density difference prevents oxygen from mixing into the salty bottom layer. Bottom-dwelling fish might feel stressed. They can develop sores and lesions, or other signs of disease.

Storm surges can also break up coral, tear up beds of seagrass, or smother these habitats with silt. So after a hurricane rips through, fish, just like humans, may have a hard time finding food and shelter.

Our thanks to:
Dr. Larry Crowder
Duke University Marine Laboratory
Beaufort, North Carolina

June 1, 2010

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