When the nose no longer knows

Pollution can endanger aquatic animals by damaging their sense of smell

By Roberta Kwok, 15:40 PM December 13, 2012

Clown fish raised in acidified waters don’t respond properly to smells. For example, they swim toward the scent of a predator instead of away from it. Credit: Simon Foale, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

In the Pacific Ocean north of Australia, a tiny speck of land called Kimbe Island is surrounded by coral reefs. This tropical island is so small that you can swim around it in half an hour.

Baby fish in the ocean must find islands like Kimbe so they can make their homes on neighboring reefs. To navigate, the animals rely partly on their sense of smell. These young fish, only about the size of a raisin, swim toward the scent of leaves from the islands’ trees. That’s like finding your way h...

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