Are These Salmon … High on Cocaine?

German environmental officials suggest a coke high could be to blame for some erratic salmon behavior

Red salmon swimming underwater. A Germany agency recently found some local salmon may have been introduced to cocaine.
Oh to be a salmon high on coke.
Mike Korostelev/Getty Images

There’s been a surprising amount of fish in the news lately, because I guess that’s the random piece of nonsense the simulation has decided to cough up for us this week. First there were football-sized goldfish in Minnesota, which sounds delightfully silly to me but apparently is a huge problem for ecological reasons that bore me. And now in further outrageous, unforeseen fish news: German salmon are high on cocaine, maybe.

Officials from the State Environmental Agency of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany first noticed salmon behaving erratically and leaping out of the water back in June 2020, as reported by Vice. “The salmon panicked and attempted to jump out of the water,” Daniel Fey, head of the Ecology and Aquaculture department, told Der Spiegel magazine. “It was a response to a feeling of discomfort.”

In a section of the organization’s recently released annual report aptly titled “Salmon on Coke,” the agency proposes that the salmon’s unusual behavior may have been caused by cocaine. After sampling water from the streams that fed the fish tanks where the salmon were going nuts and analyzing it, researchers found traces of “two conspicuous substances” in one of the streams. One of those substances was cocaine, and the other was its chemical degradation product benzoylecgonine.

While “a clear cause for the behavior of the fish could not be determined,” according to the report, “a reaction to cocaine detected in the stream water cannot be ruled out.” Following the unusual findings, officials investigated the stream in question, where they discovered an illegal wastewater discharge. The report doesn’t make it clear who was behind the waste dump or where it was coming from, though, according to Vice, it’s not uncommon in Europe for drug gangs and manufacturers to dump toxic waste and chemicals into local streams and rivers.

Fortunately, the salmon did not appear to suffer any long-term health issues from their little coke high. According to the report, the salmon only exhibited behavior related to the possibly cocaine-related incident for one day, and didn’t show any signs of permanent health damage after the episode subsided. So I guess salmon can have a little cocaine, as a treat.

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