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What Happens To Fish During A Hurricane?

Hurricanes can cause massive damage to man-made infrastructure as well as natural wetlands and forests when they make landfall. But what happens to fish and ocean life when a hurricane forms and moves across the ocean? You may be surprised.

While most of the hurricanes strength is above water, it causes chaos for life beneath the surface.

Predatory and fast species like sharks and dolphins typically survive hurricanes unscathed, as they can detect the slightest changes in water pressure and temperature and quickly escape to calmer waters. However, for slower, territorial fish that inhabit inshore bays and coastal waters, hurricanes can be a death sentence. And it's not just saltwater fish that suffer the consequences. 

Through both ocean swells and intense rainfall, hurricanes increase water levels. When water rises enough where flooding occurs - whether from rising sea levels or an overflowing freshwater lake or river - fish can be swept out of their normal watershed and into fields, streets, and residential areas. If they survive the turbulent flooding, they'll face bigger problems when the waters recede and they're stranded. 

Inshore species like redfish typically face the greatest dangers during hurricanes. 

While inshore species suffer the most during a hurricane, fish in deeper water can be greatly affected as well. The strongest forces of the hurricane remain above the surface, yet its effects can send waves - literally - throughout the water column. During a hurricane, waves become much taller and have shorter distances between them than normal. As a result, the cyclical rise-and-fall of typical waves is replaced by a much more forceful back-and-forth motion. In addition to jostling smaller fish, the back-and-forth motions can deplete oxygen levels, creating an even more dangerous environment for aquatic life. 

Yet another factor is drastic changes in water temperatures. Hurricanes can push waves of cold water for miles into shallower, inshore areas. Sudden shifts in water pressure and temperature can greatly disrupt fish as well as coral. For many fish and species that inhabit coastal waters like turtles, oysters and crabs, hurricanes can be just as devastating beneath the surface, as above.