Question of the Week

Surviving in Salt- and Fresh-water

Sun, 8th Jun 2008

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show The Real Ithaca and the Secrets of the Odyssey


Will Jimenez asked:

If the salinity of the ocean is constant, is the skin of salt water fish more permeable than fresh water fish so that salt water fish do not have to regulate their body sodium? How do salmon cope in both fresh water and salt water?


Mark Briffa, University of Plymouth. Marine biologist with an interest in behavioural ecology:

Osmolarity describes the concentration of solutes in a solution. The problem that marine and freshwater fishes face are really two sides of the same coin. With freshwater fish there’s a for salts to move out of the body leading to bloating and loss of salts. Newborn SalmonFor marine fishes there’s a tendency for water to move out of the body, leading to dehydration and excess salts. The most obvious trick to cope with these problems is to place a barrier between the insides of the body and the environment outside. The skin of the majority of fishes, both marine and freshwater, is relatively impermeable for water. Fish do need some permeable surfaces for respiration and water still moves between their tissues and the external environment. Freshwater fishes avoid water gain by not drinking and producing large amounts of urine. Marine fishes avoid water loss by drinking and producing small amounts of urine. In addition to these mechanisms fresh water fishes use their gills to absorb salts and marine water fishes use their gills to secrete salts. When salmon and eels migrate between freshwater and the sea there’s a change in the cellular structure of their gills which enables their gills to start secreting salts just like a normal marine fish. All bony fish have to osmoregulate and since they first evolved in the sea it might appear that this would be easier for marine fishes but this is a bit of a red herring.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

"For most fish, they would die.  But some, like eels and salmon, can move
freely between the two at certain stages of their lives.  To do this they have special
mechanisms of excretion and absorption of salt and water.--ProfBill"

<Mod edit - post expanded to include a quote from the think provided.  Please post some content as well as a link!> jeremy k, Wed, 4th Jun 2008

Salmon begin to die the instant they return back into the fresh water.  They are born in fresh water that is brackish from the spawning and immediately swim to the ocean.  As a matter of Islander fact, the salmon swim around at the mouth of the river for weeks sometimes before they make a mad dash up river to the spawning grounds.  There are sometimes rotting salmon still partially alive floating out of the river when winter ice fills the river mouth. what a question....
tedstruk, Wed, 11th Jun 2008

Easy to explain the eels and salmon as they start and finish in the Fresh water, but fish like Tilapia can be born in fresh water go down to the sea and back up another river, as do Mollies is it because the fish can tolerate more polluted waters, and sharks do not some of them go into fresh waters to cleanse themselves of parasites?
AlphBravo, Thu, 19th Jun 2008

By the process of osmosis, but very few fish do this Alan McDougall, Wed, 25th Jun 2008

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society