Do Fish Commit Suicide

During my daily jog around the lake at our community town’s Park,  I saw something on the shallows at the boat launch. It was a huge dead Tiger Muskie fish that had beached itself. In the coming weeks, I saw two more of this strange occurrence in the same exact spot with no signs of struggle or trauma. Why would these powerful dominant predator fish beach themselves? Do Fish Commit Suicide?

Fish will beach themselves for many reasons unrelated to suicide because of:
Predators or a “survival of the species instinct”
Earthquakes, Lightning strikes or Weather
Confusion, Contaminants, or Low Oxygen
Sex or Food that’s outside their environment

Small fish from a 10-gallon aquarium end up on the Living room floor or a thousand pound fish from the deepest part of the ocean ends up under the Boardwalk at Wildwood New Jersey. The reasons could be different but the results are the same. There are all kinds of fish in the sea that do some crazy stuff. If you don’t believe me read on:

 Why Do Fish Beach Themselves

The area, where I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania near the Delaware River, has a dozen man-made lakes that were once working Stone Quarries. The one lake at the Park is used by the Township as part of the Parks & Recreation Program. The quarry lakes are deep and linked at the bottoms and the water is always moving in and out.  They are populated heavily with native and stocked varieties of fish.

The lake at the park is stocked with native Pennsylvania fish like Muskie, Pickerel, and Bass. It is a great place to spend the day. The water activities there include Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga, Kayak, and Canoe Rentals and classes for safe boating.

Besides the Fishing Tournaments for the kids, it also is known for some of the areas bigger fish like Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike. The Tiger Muskie has always been kind of a mystery at the lake. There were some peculiar reports from some of the SUP Yoga classes that big fish, that had extremely large teeth came up from the deep part of the lake and bumped some of the girls on their boards.

They finally rope off some of the shallow areas, put up a dock, and confined the Yoga classes and Kayak Rentals there. There were also reports of guys in smaller boats drifting across the lake that had fish pulled from their lines as they were reeling them in. They said they were big Tiger Muskies that had huge teeth.

Not to mention the many Ducks and Geese that were missing limbs from swimming along the ledges that dropped off into deep dark parts of the lake. I mean there are many, one-legged ducks hoppling around the Park. Sad but funny to see.

It was all blamed on the Tiger Muskies that inhabited the lake but Anglers saw them but were not catching them. We all heard about them banging boats and scaring the heck out of everyone on the lake. Some peoples reported that their dogs who were in the water around the deep edge were bitten by something.

After seeing this dead Tiger Muskie, which was a beautiful but ferocious-looking creature, I needed to why. What happened to the fish and why was it laying in the roped-off shallow end of the lake, up on the sandy side beach that was trucked in for the boat launch, Kayak rentals, and the Yoga classes. The busiest area where most of the people who come to the Park congregate and where the most noise and activities happen.

The lake itself is crystal clear and aqua colored even though it’s very deep in spots. The lake’s shoreline is shallow for about 40 yards or so and then drops off at the edge up to more than 65 foot which is pretty deep for a local lake. The Lake is stocked, tested, and maintained by The State and the Fish and Wildlife who handle stocking fish, the health of the water, and the many Birds and animal that live there. It’s very clean and well maintained.

There are American Eagle and Hawks that I thought could maybe pull the fish out of the water and drop it on the beach but these dead fish were maybe 20 pounds or more dried up. There are a few coyotes and other predators there but they don’t swim in deep water and probably wouldn’t leave a meal like that on the shoreline.

After I found the Muskie, I inspected the fish carefully and saw no signs of trauma, fish hooks, fishing line, or injuries from boat propellers. No motors are allowed on the lake anyway, only the electric trolling types. Fishing line is recycled there in easy to see boxes all around the lake. The lake is really kept up and residents, like myself, even volunteer a couple of times a year to help clean up the whole Park neat and tidy for all the activities that happen there.

It came to me, that maybe these Tiger Muskies committed suicide. I had heard stories of other fish doing this.


Do Fish Get Depressed

Experts say fish don’t seem to have the awareness or mental capacity to feel emotional pain in the same way as humans, therefore making it unlikely that they can commit suicide in the way a human would think about committing suicide.

There have been cases of animals killing themselves for no apparent reason. Some experts believe some animals of higher intelligence are capable of the level of abstract thought needed to think about killing themselves, although other animals of little intelligence can instinctually commit suicide, such as bees protecting their hive.

Then again bees are programmed by Nature to protect their hive and the queen of the hive. Mothers of animals protect their young but that seems to be programmed by Nature as a survival mechanism that keeps their species alive. All mothers protect their young. I have heard about fish jumping out of Aquariums because of living in a stressed environment. 

This sad Video proves Orca whales should not be locked in water cages- I believe Escape was what this poor creature had on his mind.  After her final show for the day at Sea World, the Killer Whale jumped out of his tanks in front of everyone who was still at the Park. She made an attempt to commit suicide that was obvious to people there. The owners of the wale said that a few weeks earlier, Morgan, the wale ended one of the shows by banging her head numerous times and showing signs of agitation and some sort of depression behavior. There is a huge movement to stop these shows.

Escape from mistreatment could be a big reason why fish and Mammals beach themselves.

Aquarium Fish seems to be the one type of fish that will exhibit this type of behavior. These Tropical fish won’t intentionally kill themselves in the sense that a person who commits suicide kills himself. But they may jump out of an aquarium tank, for a good reason. Maybe that fish is trying to ground themselves to escape a predator. There are a lot of rules about mixing fish that eat each other when you buy an Aquarium and this is one reason why.

In an article, I wrote for MyWaterEarth&Sky about why fish lay at the bottom of a tank called Do Fish to sleep on the bottom of the tank or are they sick? I take a look at some strange behaviors that fish exhibit when captive in aquariums. There are plenty.

If you fish especially the Ocean or on the Surf, it’s called a fish frenzy when a school of Bluefish feeds on a school of smaller Bluefish or small bait fish. I have seen this happen many times. When small fish swim up onto a sand bar or even the beach to escape a bigger ones chasing it.

Some times they get all the way out of the water. In that particular case, the little fish wiggled and flopped itself back into the water. if they are lucky enough to escape the feeding.

Fish such as salmon sacrifice their lives in order to reproduce.  When they swim far upstream to breed and lay their eggs in places where the little salmon can hatch and begin to grow without too many enemies to eat them it is only to ensure that the species survives. There’s nothing for the adult salmon to eat, and they are worn out to the point they are ready to die or are eaten. There is nothing in it for them so they sacrifice themselves.

This is a constant reason that I am picking up on that animals and fish that do kill themselves, they do it is for the purpose of survival of their specises or protectiing their young which could be construed that they are protecting the future of their species which is propably programmened into their DNA to do this. Otherwise the results could end up being that after a long time on Earth their species could end up extinct. This might just be some mechanism that is installed into all living organism that keep their species alive as long as possible. 

I think a valid reason that a fish might beach itself is because of an instinct that is bred into them to sacrifice themselves for the safety of their young or their species. Just as we seen in the animal world and with some insects like honey bees who wil die for the survival of the nest. 


Why Do Fish Jump Out of the Tank

An Aquarium Fish may jump out of the water and onto the ground (beached themselves) because of a Predator or I actually heard this ” they just ain’t happy with the accommodation for whatever reason”. Bullies or the waters too cold or too hot. No Unexplained strange phenomena going on here.

Just some Goldfish trying to make a break for it

According to the New York Business Times

 The reason for this suicidal behavior has been attributed to several factors. “says the water being too warm can lead fish to jump, as can parasitic infections, which cause the fish to try to escape its discomfort. or it can’t accept the new environment that the tank provides. The site also says fish could just be lonely and they leap from their bowls in an effort to find other fishy friends. However, a biologist from the University of Maryland has found another reason for this behavior – evolution.

Daphne De Freitas Soares began researching the behavior in guppies when one jumped out of its tank and into her cup of chai: “Fortunately it was iced chai and it had a lid on, so he stayed alive. That was enough for me. I had to use a high speed camera to film what was going on.”

They went on to say that some Aquarium fish just ain’t happy when you capture them and put them in a 10-gallon tank. They might have no place to hide they might have parasites and you can’t see them. So trying to jump out of the tank will be the last ditch effort. A desperate move to escape. That doesn’t sound like suicide to me. It sounds like a escape for survival.

In 2017 in Beijing China, hundreds of fish were caught on tape jumping out of the water “like something out of a Hitchcock film”.  On June 13th, hundreds of fish began jumping and flailing wildly, leaping straight out of the water in a desperate attempt to escape…well, something. The event happened at Boai Park in Jiaozuo, Henan Province at about 4:30 in the afternoon.

All of the fish appeared to be silver carp, which are common throughout China. The incident was caught on camera by an amazed local resident who submitted the video to the China Youth Daily newspaper. There was some evidence that it could have been an earthquake or a lightning strike which sounds pretty reasonable. But suicide I’m not too sure.

An  Earthquake or Lightning Strike could have been a reason that some fish are found beached with no signs of trauma. Most of the fish were still alive.

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Mass Stranding


There have been examples of massive freshwater.

“Stranding or “strand feeding” conducted by monster European catfish that are beaching themselves in order to attack the unsuspecting pigeons that congregate on several islands in France. The whole process is quick, lasting from less than one second to no more than 4 seconds, and the attacks were systematically triggered by active pigeons.

Introduced to Tarn River in 1983, these non-native species to France range 3-5 feet in length. In other regions, these giant catfish have grown to over 9 feet long, weighing in at over an incredible 300 pounds.

The behavioral strategies developed by predators to capture and kill their prey are fascinating, notably for predators that forage for prey at, or beyond, the boundaries of their ecosystem. A good amount of these events the monster Catfish will eat the prey that is available on the beach.

Scientist believes that mass Strandings are on the rise especially in populated areas of the world. They also believe that some human spectators that witness these special events sometimes will join in as in the case of dolphins where people will help the Dolphins along by helping capture some of the fish that is pushed onto the shore.

The Dolphins are smart enough to take help. Scientist believes this could be extremely problematic and even could explain why more Bottlenose Dolphins are dying in this unique phenomenon of Nature.

Are strandings something we should be worried about?  These are species like the Bottle Nose Dolphin and  Killer Whales that are unusual, that are beautiful, and very important for the ecology of our planet.

If there are activities humans are doing precipitating these strandings then we need to know about it. The world needs to need to make decisions about pollutants, shipping noise, and sonar that seem to be part of this developing problem. Are we in some way contributing to the declining health of critical populations, like the northern White Whale?

Dolphins have always been known for their intelligence but it seems they’re even cleverer than we thought after one South Carolina resident captured the amazing moment that bottlenose dolphins took themselves to the beach for a bite to eat. Vacationers were lucky enough for a view of this cool feeding process.

The video shows the dolphins taking part in a unique feeding ritual called ‘strand feeding’, which sees them actively work together to first, herd a school of fish onto the beach before literally launching themselves out of the water to feed on them. Once the dolphins snap the tasty treats into their mouths, they simply slip elegantly back into the water.

It has been known for a long time that Dolphins are a species that beach themselves like some wales. The main cause of death would be asphyxiation for them being exposed outside of the water too long. According to Scientist, this type of feeding although it’s productive and not unusual can also be very exhausting to the Dolphins or any species of Salt or Freshwater fish especially a predator fish. It could deadly.

So Food could be the reason I found the beached Tiger Muskie?

Dolphins have to move up to 500 pounds of their body weight along with numerous attempts at feeding themselves. Dolphins also take on huge predators like the Great White Sharks to protect their own. They have been known to fight to the death to protect their young ones.

The scientist also believes that some aquatic creatures can become confused. This is because some fish like Dolphins, Sharks, and mammals like Wales rely on sound to navigate the geography of some marine areas. Sickness may lead them to see or hear a mirage just as people in deserts see mirages of water so might Whales and Dolphins.

Some fish are the leaders in their groups where other fish may follow them. If they become sick and diseased for whatever reason and get confused, others that follow the fish can get confused also leading themselves into shallower waters where they get more confused. This wouldn’t be considered Suicide.

So Confusion would make the list of reasons why a fish might end up on the beach.

Here is another fact to consider that Wales and Sharks can die miles off the coast from a variety of causes and if the dead wales carcass is fully intact, it starts to decompose. The carcass could float and be washed up on a beach if the winds and the tides are right. Another reason may be that mass beaching can be due to loud noises from Naval Sonar and Air Cannons that are used in Oil Exploration. Decomposition of the fish or in this case the Mammals carcass might cause them to wash up on the beach.

This type of Decomposition could be another reason why fish are found beached. 

Shark, Dolphin, and Whale Stranding are better known as Beaching could be more of a problem than the thought of before. Because of a Wale and Shark mass beaching in South Africa recently and due to their size, most of the wales that were alive needed to be euthanized by a shotgun. This gained World-wide attention.

Mass Stranding of marine mammals and fish have been happening for a long time. Environmental Activists blame humans that create the problems of Pollution, Shipping Noise, and Military Sonar. In the Ocean, Scientist believes that Wales and Dolphins along with other fish are affected and killed by the feeding process of Stranding.

The largest stranding or beaching of killer Whales on record is 835 animals, but sometimes you will see mass stranding’s involving just two or three. There are some species like Pilot Whales that are notorious for mass standings. There are records going back to Puritan settlements in New England reporting mass standings in the same places we see them today. So Scientist believes this phenomenon happens in similar or even the same places over and over. This might make it easier to narrow down the reasons why.

That may explain why I saw more than one carcass of a dead Muskie on the lake beach.

Only in California grunions are fish that spend their lives in the ocean. But when the tides are at their high during spring and summer months, grunion fish make a trip up onto beaches to mate and lay eggs. Grunion fish mate on the beaches of California and Mexico. They are a popular site in coastal communities like Santa Barbara and San Diego.

In the summer people come out to the beach to witness while some residents bring the net and take some home for the Barbecue. They are agile and able to get far up on the beach as possible. The female grunion fish lay their tiny eggs that are the size of a pea and the deed is done fast. It has to be done fast, the grunions can’t breathe while the whole thing is going on.

The eggs are protected by the wet sand until they are big enough to get back into the water. This happens with a high tide that will wash them into their new home.  Which doesn’t take that long? This doesn’t sound like Suicide.

So Sex might make the list of why some fish beach themselves. 

 Predatory Fish Come to Shallows at Night to Eat

gIn doing this research I found that except for the Tropical fish in the Aquariums most all the beached events has to do with Predatory fish. Dolphins and Sharks not to mention Killer Wales, get a lot of attention when they end up onto the beach especially in places like Atlantic City, New Jersey where the shore towns are heavily populated.

The same  occurrence could be happening in fresh water lakes and rivers but they wouldn’t get the attention a 500 lb. Bottle Nose Dolphin would. The question I needed to know is if the fish I saw on the beach at the Park was alive when they got there. I do know that the Tiger Muskie was only species of fish there and if it was contamination, low Oxygen or Noise Pollution that killed the Muskie, then other fish would have been victims too.

Maybe they had an appetite for some Duck. Not just the legs but the whole thing. They knew where to get some. I haven’t seen any Muskie on the sandy beach lately when jogging, but I learned a lot about Stranding, Beaching, Fish, Mammals, and the difference between Suicide and Survival.

Strand Feeding could be happening more frequently then we know and could be more of the cause of Beaching Suicides then people thought, because of the Predators desire for food and their ability to get it at whatever the cost. Hopefully man won’t interfere with the process.

Also, the world needs to ban capturing Wales and Dolphins and making them do tricks for ticket money. I always thought that it would always be better to see these creatures in their own natural habitat. Most people do.

Finally I don’t believe that these smart beautiful creatures have the ability to do something as outrageous as Suicide. I think that there is much more we can learn from them, like how they keep adapting in spite of us. 

Then we forgot about Salmon who commits Suicide after breeding making the long trek upstream only for the good of nature who makes the decision for it? Nature is Mysterious!

One thing I’m certain of, Big Fish-eat Little Fish that are normally found in the shallows on the surface of a Lake eating insects under a bright moon or light that reflects from shore.   That’s where I catch them!




Jim has over 30 years in the Water/Wastewater and the Water Filtration Business as an Operating-Consultant. He has written over 300 articles on the World Wide Water Situation.


Editor/Author, MyWaterEarth&Sky

Related Questions:

why do fish jump out of tanks?  improperly cycling your aquarium can cause fish to jump out as can high concentrations of ammonia or improper pH levels.

Why do fish come to the surface in a tank?  Lack of oxygen in the water will cause your fish to swim to the surface to breathe; the concentration of dissolved oxygen is highest here


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