Rising Ocean Pollution Levels Are Making Fish Drunk

We just learned that there may be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, but a new report shows the planet’s sea creatures may be in even more danger than previously thought.

A study published in Nature reports that increased carbon dioxide levels caused by climate change could make the planet’s fish drunk as a skunk and unable to operate normally.

That’s right, increased pollution levels can make fish drunk.

The drunken fish phenomenon is called hypercapnia and it happens when too much carbon dioxide builds up in the fish’s body, climate scientist Ben McNeil told U.S. News.

The carbon dioxide affects their brains and they lose their sense of direction and ability to find their way home. They don’t even know where their predators are.


The drunk fish phenomenon has the possibility of affecting not just saltwater fish, but also coral reefs, ocean mammals, and entire marine ecosystems. That doesn’t include the hundreds of millions of people who make their living working on and in the ocean.

Hypercapnia happens when carbon dioxide levels reach 650 parts per million; current levels exceed 400 ppm.

That means the threat of hypercapnia, the drunken fish phenomenon, is looming on the horizon and that could have devastating effects on the world’s fisheries, according to University of South Wales.

By 2100, creatures in up to half the world’s surface oceans are expected to be affected by hypercapnia.


If that happens many of the planet’s sea creatures would be unable to reproduce, find food, or escape predators and that’s bad news for the world’s commercial fishing industry and for recreational fishing as well, according to Outdoor Hub.

“If atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution continues to rise, fish and other marine creatures in CO2 hotpots in the Southern, Pacific and North Atlantic oceans will experience episodes of hypercapnia by the middle of this century – much sooner than had been predicted, and with more damaging effects than thought.”


The scientists studied seawater collected during the last 30 years and analyzed carbon dioxide concentrations with a mathematical algorithm.

Their results led to the prediction that the planet’s fish will be faced with hypercapnia, the drunken fish phenomenon, decades earlier than expected if pollution levels continue to rise, McNeil told UNSW.

Our results were staggering and have massive implications for global fisheries and marine ecosystems across the planet.

Carbon dioxide pollution makes up the majority of greenhouse gas emissions; its main sources are the burning of fossil fuels and industrial activity.


To speed research on the drunken fish phenomena and help save the planet’s seagoing organisms, McNeil founded Thinkable.org, a website dedicated to oceanography and the understanding of carbon dioxide levels in the sea.

By offering a $3,500 top prize, scientists at Thinkable.org are hoping to entice other researchers to beat their approach and improve our understanding of hypercapnia, the drunken fish phenomena.

McNeil and his group are offering their research up to anyone, student or scientist, who thinks they can speed up research on the important drunken fish phenomenon and help track rising carbon dioxide levels.

There are 78 days left in the ocean hypercapnia competition.

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)