Hearing is critical for a fish’s balance as well as its hearing. If something in the farming process is causing the deformity, the study’s authors say, there may be animal welfare issues to address.
Also, the deformity could help explain the underperformance of some fish conservation programs, which breed fish in captivity so they can be released into the wild.
Thanks to a malformed chemical structure, the deformed ear bones end up being bigger, lighter and more brittle than they should be. This impacts proper hearing in the animal.
The prevalence of the deformity – 10 times more likely in farmed fish than wild, regardless of species — was uncovered by researchers from the University of Melbourne, who chose to study Atlantic salmon farms from the world’s top salmon producers: Canada, Chile, Norway, Scotland and Australia.
|Shown are the left and right ear bones of a juvenile farmed salmon. The left one is normal, and the right one is deformed. The deformed ear bone is larger and more opaque.|
The scientists compared ear structures in both farmed and wild salmon from the top-producing countries and also used a mathematical model to predict what the fish would be able to hear based upon their ear structures.
The researchers found that no matter which country’s fish they studied the ear bone deformity was much higher in the farmed fish versus wild.
“We estimate that roughly half of these fish have the earbone deformity and thus have compromised hearing,” said Reimer. “We don’t yet know exactly how this hearing loss affects their performance in farms.”
"However," she added, "producing farmed animals with deformities contravenes two of the 'Five Freedoms' that form the basis of legislation to ensure the welfare of farmed animals in many countries."
“We now need to work out what is the root cause, to help the global salmon industry produce fish with acceptable welfare standards,” Reimer said.
Read more at Discovery News