This study investigated immediate effects of intense sound exposure associated with low-frequency (170–320 Hz) or with mid-frequency (2·8–3·8 kHz) sonars on caged rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus and hybrid sunfish Lepomis sp. in Seneca Lake, New York, U.S.A. This study focused on potential effects on inner ear tissues using scanning electron microscopy and on non-auditory tissues using gross and histopathology. Fishes were exposed to low-frequency sounds for 324 or 628 s with a received peak signal level of 193 dB re 1 µPa (root mean square, rms) or to mid-frequency sounds for 15 s with a received peak signal level of 210 dB re 1 µPa (rms). Although a variety of clinical observations from various tissues and organ systems were described, no exposure-related pathologies were observed. This study represents the first investigation of the effects of high-intensity sonar on fish tissues in vivo. Data from this study indicate that exposure to low and midfrequency sonars, as described in this report, might not have acute effects on fish tissues.