Although fish have ears, they do not have eardrums like humans and other wildlife

A number of years ago, while writing outdoor columns for some Ontario newspapers, I touched on the subject of the anatomy of the sensory parts of animals and fish. After the publication hit the newstands, I walked into a coffee shop where a well-known fisherman shouted out, “hey Murray, I suppose dew worms have ears too.” That brought laughter from a number of others. When I sat down with him, he told me in a rather loud voice that he had caught hundreds of fish and never seen one with ears on it. And so, the subject of the anatomy of fish will be the topic of this week’s column.

The anatomy of the sensory track of birds, animals and fish is surprisingly much like the sensory system of humans. The hearing ability of wildlife, however, is far greater than ours. Of course, the ears of a fish don’t protrude like ours do because the ears of a fish are buried under scales. However, they’re in the same location. The big difference is that, although they have ears, fish do not have eardrums the way humans and other wildlife do.

The ear of a fish is only the beginning of its sensory system. The bones of a fish are all part of that system as well. It might surprise readers to know that the swim bladder, as well as the lateral down through the sides of the fish, are all connected to that well-hidden ear. You might say that these other parts act as amplifiers of sound back up to the ear. (If that sounds complicated, just wait until we deal with whether fish can detect colours, whether they hibernate or sleep, and how they experience pain.)

As to the lateral line being part of the sensory system of the fish, this can generally be seen on members of the trout family. It is a fine line that extends along the side of the entire body back to the tail. This is a highly sensitive component that plays a part in the way a fish hears. Sound vibrations in the water are picked up by the lateral line and sent back up to the ear, kind of like a microphone. For instance, if you are fishing in an aluminum boat and make the slightest sounds against the aluminum, fish can sense this from 40 feet away, pin the spot right down and avoid the area. This is especially true for fish of the trout family, though it’s less effective when it comes to attacking predators such as the pike or musky.

As far as conversations between fishermen when out fishing, the fish will not be affected by such sound. They only pick up sound within the water. This is a good excuse for you to not take drinking water along with you when you go fishing. Something a little stronger will hide any noise of fishermen talking to each other.

Finally, something else to consider. “Fishermen of any single generation do not have the right to deprive all future generations of the fruits of their resources for their own short-term economic advantage.”