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Fish have no visible ears, unlike most mammals. Therefore, it is natural to wonder if they can hear anything. Yes, fish can hear, although their hearing range is typically quite limited.

They can even detect sound or acoustic waves generated by water ripples. Let’s look into the ability of fish to hear in great depth.

Do Fish Have Ears?

The simple fish ear has few uses. But in most teleost fish, the inner ear is connected to the swim bladder (fish maw).

Either directly, as in herrings, or indirectly through a chain of small bones known as Weberian Ossicles. These small bones are made up of calcium carbonate.

This enables them to utilize their fish maw as a type of drum to detect a wider variety of sounds.

Cartilaginous fish lack a fish maw. Instead, they have an endolymph-filled duct that connects the sacculus to the external environment.

This duct traverses a region known as the parietal fossa. This parietal fossa is enclosed by a skin layer that may function as an eardrum.

The ear of the shark also has an organ known as the Macula Neglecta, the purpose of which is unknown.

It is thought to respond to lymph fluid movements induced by sound waves contacting the skin covering the parietal fossae.

Sharks and Rays, however, have a rather limited hearing range. Even though it has been demonstrated that they can pinpoint the source of low-frequency sound pulses from up to 100 milliseconds away.

How does Fish Hear?

ornamental fish swimming in the tank - can fish hear

Some people believe that fish cannot hear as they lack ears, however, fish’s bodies possess a variety of organs that identify the sound.

Fish may hear utilizing cilia (thin nerve hairs), bladders, otoliths, accelerometers, or a combination of these organs.

These thin nerve hair or hair cells that line the sides of certain fish are actually highly similar to the cilia that line the cochlea in the inner ear of humans and other animals that live on land.

Hearing Ranges in Fish

Fish can hear a wide variety of sounds, but their abilities vary greatly between species. The information in the table below helps to illustrate the wide range of hearing abilities among fish species.

Species of FishRange of hearing
Eel300
Toadfish400
Pollack500
Sturgeon800
Croakers1,000
Grunts1,000
Sharks 1,000
Snappers1,000
Bluefin Tuna1,000
Stripped Boss1,000
Yellowfin tuna1,100
Wrasses1,300
Damselfish 2,000
Silver Perch3,000
Anchovies4,000
Sardines4,000
Herrings4,000

Do Fish Have Good Hearing?

Despite possessing internal ears, fish have a poor sense of hearing.

Although fish can hear thanks to vibrations in the inner ear, their hearing mechanism is extremely simple. The majority of fish are divided into two groups:

General – They have general hearing, which means they can detect a restricted frequency range.

Specialist – They are hearing specialists, therefore they can hear a wider spectrum of frequencies.

In comparison to fish with swim bladders, fish without swim bladders have an average hearing frequency of 400 Hz or lower.

Additionally, their hearing is less sensitive. Some examples are tuna, sharks, and stingrays.

And, the closer the swim bladder and the ears are to one another, the better the fish’s hearing. The best-hearing fish have a swim bladder and a mechanism connecting them to their inner ear.

However, according to research, fish can only detect sounds with low frequencies. Depending on the species, these frequencies are typically between 800 and 1,000 Hz.

Nevertheless, according to another research, a tiny number of fish species can detect sounds between 3,000 and 4,000 Hertz.

The fish with the poorest hearing compensate in other ways, such as by possessing superior eyesight or a stronger lateral line. These evolutionary adaptations have allowed them to survive for so long.

How Sound Travels in Water?

Sound waves travel in water similarly to how they do through air. The only reason we perceive sound to be muted beneath the water is because of the fact that water is denser than air, hence diminishing the sound’s strength.

However, because fish have auditory organs that are uniquely designed for underwater hearing, they do not experience the same difficulty hearing underwater as humans do.

Can Fish Hear You Talk?

Fish in an aquarium can hear human voices, but they do not recognize the sounds as words. Fish only perceive these sounds as chortles, grunts, scrapes, pops, etc; they are unable to comprehend their meaning.

Some owners allege that their fish are capable of recognizing their voices.

However, this seems questionable. Similarly, owners frequently romanticize their fish’s responses to sound as an indication that they remember their voice. They’re pleased to believe this, but it’s not true.

Unless they are directly influenced by sounds, fish are typically unaffected by them.

For example, they will react when they hear sounds that indicate a close threat or the presence of food.

However, because human voices outside of their aquarium are unlikely to produce sufficient vibrations, fish will ignore them.

Also, aquarium filters might be noisy. They also generate vibrations that can alter waves of sound, affecting the ability of fish to hear.

Fish are more likely to react to visual signals than to sounds. Try utilizing hand signals to see if your fish will respond to them if you wish to communicate with them.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford, fish can recognize and differentiate between human faces. This helps you bond since your fish understands who you are.

Do Loud Noises Scare Fish?

Fish don’t like loud sounds, especially if those sounds come from underwater. Because the vibrations in the water affect the fish and send signals to their brains that they can hear.

When fish hear a loud sound, they swim to the bottom of the aquarium, pond, or lake to get away from “danger.” If fish are near a loud sound when it is made, they may experience:

  • Loss-of-hearing
  • Stress
  • Bleeding 
  • Damage to tissues
  • Death

This is another reason why aquarium owners shouldn’t tap on the glass. The knocking makes the tank shake, which scares and confuses the fish. Even if you think you are tapping the tank softly, the sound will be much louder underwater.

Loud noises can hurt not only the hearing organs of your fish but also make them swim away quickly to find a place to hide. They could hurt their fragile fins and tails on the tank’s decorations while doing this.

How Do Goldfish Hear Sounds?

Like all other fish, goldfish also have an inner ear or internal ear. Apart from that they also use a lateral line system. The lateral line extends from the head to its tail along both sides of its body. It is used to detect water movement and tremors. When sound or acoustic waves travel through water, the water begins to move. This movement is detectable by cells along the lateral line. This allows the fish to detect the direction from which a sound is emanating.

Can Your Betta Fish Recognize Your Voice?

Not really. Similar to other freshwater or other fishes, your pet betta fares poorly in recognizing your voice. However, they will start bonding with you through visual cues. Once you are familiar with your pet, you can start playing with it and even teach tricks to further strengthen your bond.

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