Any child who’s had a pet goldfish has likely wondered about what really happens when you flush a fish down the toilet. Movies like Finding Nemo and Flushed Away may convince children and their parents alike that flushing fish is a safe way to release them into the world, but the facts sadly point to a different story.
Do fish die if you flush them?
The truth of the matter is that flushing your fish has a much stronger possibility of ending their life than it does of reintroducing them back into the natural world. Many saltwater fish die within minutes because toilet water and municipal water sources are freshwater and lack the salt they need to live.
If the shock of the water doesn’t kill your fish, the next stop on their journey probably will. Toilets do not lead directly into the ocean but into sewage systems that contain different gases, bacteria, and chemicals that exist to kill living organisms.
Plumbers in the early 2000s suddenly found themselves inundated with calls from parents with frantic children in the background asking how to get their fish back from the toilet—a sadly impossible feat. There are, however, some fish that make it to open waters against all odds.
The Case of the Giant Goldfish
A 2019 Facebook post from a waterkeeper page in Niagara details the hazards of flushing or releasing your fish into the world. The caught goldfish had grown to 14 inches in length and was wreaking havoc on local habitats of native fish. Fish like these don’t have natural predators and can grow to massive sizes, eating and otherwise threatening the food sources of the fish native to these bodies of water.
If you can’t keep your pet goldfish, the best and most humane route is to return them to the store you bought them from. If the store doesn’t accept your fish, reach out to local aquariums, schools, or elderly care homes to see if anyone will take a donation.