According to the World Health Organization, about 236,000 people drown each year. Of course, dogs, snakes, birds and many other living creatures can also drown if they get into a dangerous situation in the water. But can marine animals drown? LiveScience turned to experts with this question.
“Marine animals need oxygen to live just as much as land animals do,” says Francis Whitrow, a marine scientist with Oceana, an environmental protection and conservation organization. – “It’s just that they live off dissolved oxygen in the water, and we get oxygen from the air.”
Most fish breathe when water passes through their gills. But if the gills are damaged or the water can’t pass through them, the fish can suffocate. Technically, the fish will not suffocate because it is not inhaling water, it will die from lack of oxygen.
Fishing tackle, such as certain types of hooks, can damage the gills. Disease can also be the cause. Pathogenic bacteria can multiply on the gills, blocking their movement so that they can not filter oxygen from the water. Or destroying them to the point that the gills stop working.
Although some fish can pump water through their gills at rest, many must swim constantly to filter water. “If they get trapped, like in a fishing net, they can get stuck and suffocate,” Whitrow says.
Other marine animals, such as turtles and dolphins, get air the same way we do-they breathe it in from the air. But they can only do that when they surface. Once caught in fishing nets, they get stuck underwater and, unable to rise above the water for a breath of air, they suffocate.
According to Whitrow, it is difficult to say how many marine animals suffocate, but the International Whaling Commission estimates that 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed each year by being caught in fishing nets.
In addition, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, warm water does not contain as much dissolved oxygen as cold water. And as global ocean temperatures rise due to climate change, “dead zones” with lower oxygen levels appear. Fish life is also at risk in these areas.