Large percentage of fish survive treacherous Niagara Falls plunge

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Published October 4, 2023 at 12:03 pm

fish niagara falls

Human beings don’t do so well if they take the plunge over Niagara Falls – the mortality rate is exceptionally high – but fish actually do swimmingly in the challenge.

According to Wes Hill, a Niagara River expert, the good news is it is estimated that 90 per cent of the fish that go over the falls survive. Hill grew up along the river and he would often help officials locate bodies and/or save people from going over the falls.

He was brought in as an advisor during the filming of movies like Superman IIThe Long Kiss Goodnight, and Niagara: Miracles, Myths and Legends. As an avid fisherman, he is familiar with fish going over the falls and surviving.

However, like anything else, there are key factors. Fish are far more likely to survive a trip over the Horseshoe Falls in Canada than the American Falls or Bridal Veil Falls in New York State.

The reason is simply this. If a fish takes a plunge over Horseshoe, the lowest of the three falls at 167 feet (51 metres), there is a 100-foot pool of water at the basin. As well, the water going over the falls is highly oxygenated, which is helpful to those who have gills.

However, even if a fish survived going over the American Falls or Bridal Veil Falls, the drop is a little higher – 176 feet (53.6 metres) for both – but it’s the landing that will kill them as jagged rocks protrude the water surface in both cases.

That said, since 90 per cent of the water coming from the Niagara River goes over Horseshoe, the large majority of fish that get caught in the rapids, forcing them on a one-way trip to “Plunge Town”, also go over Horseshoe.

How easy is it for a fish to get out of the rapids once they inadvertently fish into them? Pretty much impossible. The water in the rapids is moving at speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph) so once a fish gets caught up in that they are along for the ride. Once the water reaches the crest of the falls it can get as fast as 110 km/h (68 mph).

Another key factor is the size of the fish and when it comes to survival going over the falls, scientists suggest the smaller the better.

The most common fish in the Niagara River vary greatly in size. A perch is just four to 10 ounces; a smallmouth bass is one to four pounds; a largemouth bass is one to five pounds, a Muskie weighs in at 15 to 36 pounds; a Walleye is up to 20 pounds while a Northern Pike tips the scales at up to 40 pounds.

For all these fish, records will be significantly larger, but this gives an illustration of how large an average fish going over Niagara Falls may be. As you can see, a perch may stand a far better chance than a walleye or northern pike, simply because the larger fish have a greater chance of hitting rocks at the basin.

So clearly for fish and successful trips over Niagara Falls, good things swim in small packages.


As you can see, even fish are more likely to be killed by the rocks at the basin of both the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.

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