Children born to mothers with substantial alcohol consumption during pregnancy can present a number of morphological, cognitive, and sensory abnormalities, including hearing deficits, collectively known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The goal of this study was to determine if the zebrafish lateral line could be used to study sensory hair cell abnormalities caused by exposure to ethanol during embryogenesis. Some lateral line sensory hair cells are present at 2 days post-fertilization (dpf) and are functional by 5 dpf. Zebrafish embryos were raised in fish water supplemented with varying concentrations of ethanol (0.75%-1.75% by volume) from 2 dpf through 5 dpf. Ethanol treatment during development resulted in many physical abnormalities characteristic of FAS in humans. Also, the number of sensory hair cells decreased as the concentration of ethanol increased in a dose-dependent manner. The dye FM 1-43FX was used to detect the presence of functional mechanotransduction channels. The percentage of FM 1-43-labeled hair cells decreased as the concentration of ethanol increased. Methanol treatment did not affect the development of hair cells. The cell cycle markers proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) demonstrated that ethanol reduced the number of sensory hair cells, as a consequence of decreased cellular proliferation. There was also a significant increase in the rate of apoptosis, as determined by TUNEL-labeling, in neuromasts following ethanol treatment during larval development. Therefore, zebrafish are a useful animal model to study the effects of hair cell developmental disorders associated with FAS.