Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 6, pp 1403–1412 | Cite as

The response of Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, to progressive hypoxia: fish swimming speed and physiological stress

  • N. A. HerbertEmail author
  • J. F. Steffensen
Research Article


Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, were exposed to a progressive stepwise decline in water oxygen pressure \((19.9, 13.2, 10.5, 8.4, 6.2\,\,{\text{and}}\,\,4.3\,{\text{kPa}}\; P_{{\rm O}_{2} }).\) Fish swimming speed and indicators of primary and secondary stress (e.g. blood cortisol and lactate) were measured to assess whether a severe shift in physiological homeostasis (i.e. stress) preceded any change in behaviour or vice versa. Swimming speed increased by 18% when \(P_{{\rm O}_{2}} \) was reduced rapidly from 19.9 kPa to 13.2 kPa and was interpreted as an initial avoidance response. However, swimming speed was reduced by 21% at a moderate level of steady \(P_{{\rm O}_2}\) (8.4 kPa) and continued to drop by 41% under progressively deep hypoxia (4.3 kPa). Elevations in plasma cortisol and blood lactate indicated major physiological stress but only at 4.3 kPa, which corresponds to the critical oxygen tension of this species. We propose that the drop in speed during hypoxia aids to offset major stress and is adaptive for the survival of cod in extensive areas of low oxygen.


Blood Lactate Plasma Cortisol Swimming Speed Experimental Tank Metabolic Scope 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


\(P_{{\rm O}_{2}} \)

Partial pressure of oxygen



Financial support by the European Union, Fisheries Directorate, through contract QLRS-2002-00799 (Project ETHOFISH), is acknowledged. The authors wish to thank the Crew of R/V Ophelia for the supply of cod and Anders D. Jordan, Peter V. Skov and Jane Behrens for their help during physiological sampling.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Biological LaboratoryHelsingørDenmark
  2. 2.Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life SciencesUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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