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Following a Nuclear war in a project I’m working on, the only surviving land animals are a few mutant or genetically altered insects, (earthworms, scorpions, locusts, cockroaches) and sapient rats which have taken the place of mankind, (RIP). What I want to know is, could fish have survived as well?

Given that they have survived pretty much every major mass extinction since their emergence, could fish, even small species, survive a Nuclear winter, and if so, which species?

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  • $\begingroup$ Off the top of my head, I suspect that the majority of ocean-bound aquatic creatures wouldn't even notice a nuclear winter. There might be some impact due to the life forms that rely on sunlight getting less of it, but I imagine that life a couple hundred meters down would be virtually unaffected $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Nov 14, 2022 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek also quite a few live under the icecaps both ends of the planet, not a lot going to change for them, would expect any of those that didn't rely on a food chain that might be disrupted to survive. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Nov 15, 2022 at 0:53

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Marine life survived the ice age. I imagine the radiation might affect species that live closer to shores and the surface, such as reef fish and certain marine mammals like seals and otters, but most things I imagine would be rather unaffected by nuclear winter. They live very far from anywhere nuclear ordinance would be reasonably deployed, and the ocean is such a massive body of water that it maintains its narrow range of temperatures needed to support marine life naturally through thermodynamic equilibrium, so the global temperatures falling would probably not be a very big deal to them. Just to be clear: seals, otters, and other such marine mammals would be doomed I think, but fish specifically should be mostly fine, if just struggling a bit more due to increased deaths from cancer with fish that don't live in the freaky depths. As for deep sea organisms, there are considerably large lifeforms like frilled sharks and nautili which have been around for over 200 million years. They'll all be fine.

However, freshwater aquatic life in rivers and lakes would likely be a different story, since being inland they'd be much closer to radioactive epicenters. The temperatures specifically would likely not be a big deal to them either, though. They also did just fine in the ice age as far as I know, but just the fallout from the nuclear reactor at Pripyat alone is enough to have significantly affected nearby freshwater life.

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Fish survived far worse than any nuclear winter humans could create with 21st century nuclear stockpiles. The KT extinction event was caused by a massive asteroid impact that likely released more energy than 10 billion atomic bombs yes that’s billion with a B. Mankind’s nuclear stockpile is weak-sauce compared to the asteroid that wiped out the non avian dinosaurs, and fish survived that. The immediate aftermath of the asteroid was far more severe than any human caused nuclear winter scenario

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Fish will be in trouble, but most smaller fish species will survive

There is a fundamental problem in a nuclear winter. The incoming energy (solar radiation) is reduced severely. Fish rely on photosynthesis by plants/algae/bacteria just like all higher life on earth (there are some exceptions, e.g. black smokers but they're negligible when looking at total energy turnover). Photosynthesis will be affected by a nuclear winter in water just like on land. So the primary production of biomass will be much lower in the water as well. This will decimate the fish populations since they have less food, but smaller species should survive this. There are so much individuals of them that they can handle a reduction of their population by, lets say, 90% while larger animals can't.This is a general rule of extinction events, the smaller the animal the higher the chance of survival, because they usually find an ecological niche where they can persist until conditions get better.

Life at the bottom of the ocean will be affected just like life on the surface because it relies on the food coming from the surface.

Nuclear radiation will hardly affect fish, because water protects from radiation very efficiently, but this isn't the limiting factor on land either.

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