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Study: Fish Smart Enough to Avoid Oilsands Process-Affected Water

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Study: Fish Smart Enough to Avoid Oilsands Process-Affected Water

A new study from the University of Alberta is looking into the effects oilsands process-affected water would have on migratory fish.

“It looks like they would leave,” said Keith Tierney, Associate Professor, Associate Chair of Research. “If this is a fish capable of moving, it would move.”

Tierney along with his colleagues performed tests on these fish, exposing them to the water. First, they wanted to see if they could smell it, putting electrodes on their noses, testing their sense of smell.

“We got responses like you get with any regular odorant, the neurons fired in response.”

The next step was checking their behavior.

“It’s like they walked into an invisible wall, they move into it, they hit it, stop, and they will actually reverse their swimming and go in another direction,” added Tierney.

Tierney adds fish also make choices like humans. He notes some of the fish hit the “wall” while other choose to swim in the OSPW.

“You have fish personalities, fish are remarkably different creatures and so even if you look at these avoidance responses, there will be the odd one that doesn’t want to avoid it.”

An additional part of the study was looking at the long-term effects of the water. Once again electrodes were used on the fish where they saw impairment to the sensory tissue.

“It wouldn’t function as well as it should but we did find that functionality comes back very rapidly, olfactory neurons are capable of regeneration.”

Tierney suggests throughout evolution, water life may have been exposed to these salts, metals, organic compounds in the water and learned to avoid these toxins.

Meanwhile, the study also took another turn looking at ozonation, a process aimed at reducing the toxins.

“What we found, if you ozonate this stuff, you remove the toxicity associated with exposure, the behavior response remains the same but the toxicity goes away,” added Tierney.

The next step in their study is trying to determine what components of the OSPW are dangerous. Tierney says the majority of the water isn’t toxic and something people shouldn’t be concerned about.

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