You consider your fish to be part of the family. Multiple times a day you stop by their aquarium and give a quick “Hello” or “How’s it swimming?” and it seems like they react to your voice. Your swims towards you as you talk through the glass, but does it know what you are saying?
Can fish hear you talk? They may be able to hear your voice in a muffled way, but not so much that they know where the sound comes from. Because of the transfer of noise going from air to water, the sound is very diluted and has difficulty passing in a way that is recognizable. It is likely they respond more to movement.
Even more, if your fish are going to hear even a bit of your voice, you will need to speak to them as loudly as possible. Sound going from air to water is hard enough, add a layer of glass in between that transfer and you have a recipe for some hard message receiving. Continue reading to find out if fish can hear at all, when they can hear you best, and other ways to interact with your fishy friends.
Can Fish Hear at All?
Looking at a fish, it may seem almost impossible that these scaly little creatures are capable of hearing. After all, no fish has a big set of ears protruding from either side of their bodies. However, fish do have an anatomy that includes the internal properties of an ear, this is simply not revealed outwardly to where we can see them. As it turns out, fish can absolutely hear, but what exactly are these hidden ears composed of and how do they work?
Humans and fish alike have the inner ear. This is a part of the ear that helps with balance and hearing. For fish, the inner ear is also a receptor of sound. However, it is not necessarily made to hear sounds like you and I would. Instead, it picks up vibrations that move through the water and are transmitted to the fish. The inner ear is on either side of the fish’s head and is made of small bones that pick up these vibrations and transmit them to the brain.
Fish also have something called the lateral line. This actually runs along both sides of the fish and is used to sense movement as well as smaller vibrations in the water. When sound makes its way through water it causes the water to move. The lateral line picks these sounds up and helps the fish orient where the sound has come from.
When Can Fish Likely Hear You?
The possibility that your aquarium fish really hear you is slight. After all, there is a lot of matter in between your voice and your fish swimming at the bottom of his tank. However, there are still instances in which a fish can hear you to a better degree. You may be thinking “Yes, finally, I’ll do whatever it takes to get my fish to respond!” but don’t jump the gun just yet.
You know that it is difficult for fish to hear your voice when you are out of the water, but what if you were in it? Now, this may seem completely mad, but a sound occurs underwater with the fish rather than outside of the water, it is much more likely the fish will be able to hear the noise due to the sound vibrations being directly present in the space around them. If you are ready to test this theory, go ahead and dive in, but watch out for that filter!
Outside of fish that are within aquariums, there are of course fish in natural settings. If you have ever been with a serious fisherman, you have likely heard them say to keep your voices down or the fish will be scared away. This is true and untrue. Since you are directly above the water, it is not so much your voices that can scare the fish to the depths of the lake, but the movement of the boat itself.
Especially if you are on an aluminum fishing boat, excessive movement of the boat and movement within the boat can shoot directly into the water and send vibrations that are less than appealing to your potential catch. Just be sure to be conscious of your movement when fishing and try not to rock the boat too hard. Talking should not be an issue unless you are yodeling as your first fish pops up onto the surface. Socializing is completely fine.
Is it Ok to Tap on the Tank?
So you are disappointed that your fish cannot likely hear you with your morning greetings or cheerful “Goodnight,” but you are not so disappointed that you would be willing to stick your head into the tank to carry out a conversation with Flynn and Ricky.
Since you know that vibrations through the water are how fish hear, you begin to think that tapping on the glass is a great way to grab your fish’s attention – a little bit of tank Morse code.
You are absolutely right in concluding that tapping on the glass of your aquarium will be easier for your fish to hear, but it is not an encouraged method of communication. Tapping may seem unharmful to you, but your little tap on the side of the tank is actually quite forceful when it converts to the water. Because of this, the vibrations can be very strong and actually startle your fish.
To tap the tank may seem completely harmless, after all, your fish always swim extra fast when you do this because they are excited, right? Unfortunately, that movement is out of fear and if you want to keep in good graces with your little water pets, avoid taking this kind of action to get their attention.
No one likes to be scared out of the blue, and your fish are just the same. Keep their environment nice and calm and avoid adding unnecessary stress.
Ways to Get Your Fish’s Attention
Your fish may not be able to hear you very well, but there are definitely things you can do to get their attention without screaming at the top of your lungs or tapping until their heart has beat out of their tiny chests. You can teach them to:
- Follow Your Finger
- Swim Through Hoops
- Jump Out of the Water
How to Teach Your Fish to Follow Your Finger
This is actually a super simple little fish trick, one that is simply reward-driven through positive reinforcement. You want to first get your fish to pay close attention to your finger. Once you have the fish’s attention held, give it a piece of its favorite food or treat.
Then continue on and try to get your fish to physically follow your finger to a different spot. Once this happens, immediately reward it with a treat, but avoid the treat if your fish does not follow.
How to Teach Your Fish to Swim Through Hoops
This trick may seem a bit outlandish, but it can be done with a little patience and lots of practice. Your fish cannot hear your commands like a dog or horse would, and even if could, it would not respond in the same way that our furry friends do.
To get your fish to swim through hoops, first, attach a hoop to either a string or pole to be placed into your tank. Once you have it secured, place it in the tank and let your fish get acclimated to it.
Use the “follow my finger” trick to get your fish to swim through the hoop. Once they have gone through, reward that trick master with a special fishy treat! Keep repeating until your fish has caught on the trick is as easy as snacking for them. If you want to kick it up a notch more, you can create your own fish obstacle within the tank to really impress a crowd.
How to Teach Your Fish to Jump
Now, this trick can be a bit more difficult for fish, but it certainly can be done. To teach your fish to jump you want to first start with feeding it at the surface of the water by hand.
Once the fish knows that your hand means food it will begin to get more comfortable with its presence during meal-time. After your fish has adjusted, hold the food right above the water. This should eventually get your well-trained fish pal to jump and will become your new favorite party trick!
To conclude, yes, your fish can hear the transfer of noise and vibrations through their inner ear, but they likely respond more to your movement than to your voice. Knowing this, avoid high-stress behaviors like applying sudden movement (tapping the tank). When communicating with your fish, use movement and positive rewards to teach them all kinds of new tricks!