How Do Fish Communicate?

  • Fish rely on several methods of communication. Sound communication is often the most effective, as light is easily absorbed in water and thus visual communication isn't as much of an option. This is true in both clear and clouded water. Sound is a viable option though, as it travels much more quickly underwater than in the air, at an impressive clip of roughly 1,500 m/s. Fish tend to use lower frequency sounds for communication, and these travel even more quickly than higher frequency sounds, meaning fish communication via sound is extremely viable.

  • Fish communication specifically using sound exists for a small variety of reasons, but generally their aim is either communication for the sake of reproduction or communication because of the onset of stressful situations. These stressful situations include, but are not limited to, aggression, defense, and protection of territory, like many other earth creatures. Sounds are used to dissuade fish from encroaching upon territory, or to warn of the possibility of an encounter. These sounds are often short outbursts designed to convey those meanings.

  • Most sounds produced by fish are due to the need for mating. As might be expected, males are behind the majority of these reproductive sounds, as they attempt to impress females with their calls and generally put on a show. Many of the fish who make reproductive sounds are nocturnal broadcast spawners, which may form in huge groups and broadcast for an extended period. Also, there are the nest builder type that, unlike nocturnal broadcast spawners, make mating calls only after constructing nests.

  • Aside from sound communication, chemical communication does exist on a much more narrow level. Specifically, all fish produce pheromones, and some release these chemicals into the surrounding water to signal stress and more. Chemical communication does not operate on the broad level that sound communication does however, due to the fact that the wide distances achieved with sound cannot be achieved with chemical communication. It is best used only for short distances due to chemical particles moving slower in water than they do in air.

  • Aside from sound-based communication and the release of chemicals into the surrounding water, fish also often make use of body language to send signals concerning antagonism, fear and defensive posturing, and interest in a male or female for mating purposes. Some fish even possess the ability to change their body color to convey a message or indicate a particular mood.

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