Reef Fish Swim Deep in Search of Cooler Water

Written by on August 10, 2015 in Fish, Marine Life
Resting redthroat. Photo credit:Michelle Heupel.

Resting redthroat. Photo credit:Michelle Heupel.

A new study from James Cook University (JCU) found that some fish will swim to deeper waters to escape the heat. If the trend of ocean warming continues, this could have profound consequences on marine ecosystems.

Scientists at JCU attached satellite tags that transmitted depth to 60 redthroat emperor fish near Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef. The fish were monitored for a year. During that time, the data showed they were less likely to be found on shallower reefs on warmer days.

“This is a commercially important fish and we are looking at a significant depth shift,” lead researcher, Dr. Leanne Currey, explained in a news release. “If it’s not around in the shallows in the future then fishers will have to redirect their efforts and it may be significantly harder to catch them.”

In addition to temperature, the scientists also accounted for air pressure, rainfall, and moon phases, but found that temperature was the only factor that correlated with the depth of the fish.

Releasing a redthroat emperor fish. Photo credit:Michelle Heupel.

Releasing a redthroat emperor fish. Photo credit:Michelle Heupel.

Dr. Currey explained that it’s also possible that instead of living at deeper depths, the fish may shift south to find cooler waters. Either way, their typical habitat appears to be changing.

The next step will be to determine if the fish can adapt to warmer waters.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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