The Sound Of The Sea: Can Fish Hear?

can fish hear

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I am sure that you have heard this question before, or at least read it in a book or watched it on tv.

I remember the first time someone asked me this, I had no idea what they were talking about. 

But after some research, it turns out that not only can fish hear, but they have a sense of hearing and sound detection.

I was recently involved in a discussion with a friend that we decided on the topic of “Can Fish Hear?” and we decided to do some research and write about it.

This article will discuss the results of the research as well as fish hearing and sound detection.

Can Fish Hear You Talk?

First of all, it is important to note that almost every fish has a sense of hearing, there are only a few exceptions.

Fish have a special kind of ear called the lateral line. Each lateral line contains many minute cells called stereocilia, located on the outer edge of each canal and along the length of each hair.

The rough end of each hair is sensitive to low-frequency sound, while the smooth end is sensitive to higher frequencies.

These hairs can detect sound and transmit the information through a process called transducing.

When you talk to fish, there is a difference in the frequencies of your voice, which is perceived by their lateral line.

When it is projected towards the smooth end of the hair, the signal is sent to the brain and they may feel a vibration or touch as well as perceive sound. 

This signals to them that they need to respond.

The signal also goes through a series of other processing steps in both the brain and body that enables them to respond appropriately. So, YES, a fish can hear you. 

How Do Fish Hear?

Fish have a unique method of hearing that is linked to their swim bladders.

The swim bladder is a gas-filled structure and it acts as an eardrum by stretching and contracting the muscles that generate pressure waves in the water.

The swim bladder vibrates and moves in response to sound waves. The vibrations send signals through the body, which can be picked up by lateral line hairs.

Three main types of sounds have been recorded from fish: Vibrations, pressure changes, and air motion.


When sound waves hit the fluid, some of the sound waves will be absorbed and some will be absorbed into the gas inside the swim bladder.

Vibrations are detected by sensitive hair on the lateral line.

Some fishes might not have lateral lines and still respond to vibrations by sensing changes in pressure within their body. 

Pressure Changes

When objects enter the water, it increases the water pressure around them.

This change in water pressure is transmitted through the swim bladder to the body and can be picked up by sensitive hair on the lateral line.

This type of sound is usually generated by flowing water, such as streams or rivers.

Air Motion

Air motion can be detected by a flow of air along with vibrations through the swim bladder.

There are usually both air motion and water motion waves at the same time.

The difference between how much each wave occurs changes depending on which way the fish is facing.

Do Fish Have Ears?

Fish may not appear to have ears, yet this does not rule out the possibility of them hearing.

Their “ears” are on the inside of their heads and are known as the lateral lines. Each lateral line contains tiny hair cells that are linked to the brain.

These tiny hairs pick up on vibrations and pressure changes and cue the fish to respond accordingly.

Over the last two decades, numerous studies have been conducted with an ever-increasing degree of sophistication, examining the fish’s sense of hearing in both behavioral and physiological terms.

The results indicate that several fish species have a well-developed sense of hearing with a sensitivity approaching that of humans.

The most sophisticated of these studies have revealed that in some species of fish, hearing is far more important for survival than our hearing is to us.

For survival, they are adapted to their watery environment, and to survive they must be able to determine the location of prey, predators, and danger zones.

In more complex species, such as Bulls-eye butterfly fish, sound navigation systems have been identified and these use sounds that are specific to their environment to navigate in the dark.

Other studies have shown that these same fish can discriminate between different types of calls, thanks in part to their distinct lateral line systems.

How Good Is A Fish Hearing?

Generally speaking, fish have pretty good hearing. They can detect sounds across a wide range of frequencies, from low-pitched rumbling noises to high-pitched sounds.

Some fish even use sound to communicate with each other.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind about fish hearing. First of all, different species of fish have different hearing abilities.

Some fish can hear very well, while others might not be able to hear much at all.

Second, the way a fish hears sounds is different from the way we do. Humans and other land animals use their outer ears to collect sound waves and funnel them into the inner ear.

Fish don’t have outer ears, so they use their whole body to collect sound waves.

This means that fish can hear sounds coming from all directions at once. They can also sense vibrations in the water, which helps them to detect the approach of predators or prey.

So, while fish might not have the same hearing ability as humans, they can still hear pretty well.

And some species of fish have even developed special adaptations that help them to detect and communicate with each other using sound.

How Do Fish Communicate?

Teaching and learning are essential to the survival of fish, which is why communication is so crucial for all species of fish.

They use several different types of signals, including visual, verbal, tactile, and chemical. They also have a very well-developed sense of hearing, bringing them into closer contact with their environment. 

  • Visual Signals: This is used to communicate information about danger or food. It might also be used to attract a mate.
  • Verbal Signals: Many fish communicate by making sounds with their mouths. Some use raspy grunts, while others use pops and whistles.
  • Tactile Signals: Tactile signals are used to move a mate towards a particular mate or attract food. 

Sound is produced using air sacs located in the “belly” and this vibration can be picked up by the lateral line system inside the fish’s body.

The sound production is determined by the pressure of air pushed out through the swim bladder.

Fish can hear low-pitched sounds, and research has shown that many fish species can detect the distance between two objects from their lateral line system.

It’s also been suggested that a part of their brain may contain a map of their surroundings, which the fish can use to orient themselves.

Communication among different species is important for survival. Fish use these methods to recognize each other, find food and interact with other species.

Fish show a range of sophisticated behavioral responses to vocalizations made by conspecifics.

Studies have shown that fish can distinguish between different calls made by other fish and in many cases will alter their behavior depending on the type of call they receive.

For example, when a fish is sick, it will make a different call from when it’s hungry.

These calls may indicate the type of food needed or the frequency of feeding.

Final Thoughts

In the end, fish can hear very well, and they use a wide range of techniques to communicate with each other.

While they lack our ability to hear in the high-pitched ranges, they can detect sounds at wavelengths far beyond human hearing.

It also appears that many species do have some kind of internal map of their surroundings to orient themselves and navigate their surroundings.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with others who may find it useful.