It’s a Fishy Situation…

Aquarist: noun. “A person who keeps an aquarium.”

The pet fish: an easy transition into pet parenthood. Complete with that first glorious moment when bubbles glides into his new fishy home with a fluid plop. So much excitement. So much glee! At first, the fish bowl stays immaculate. Cleaned regularly, new filters on time, water treated and changed accordingly. But with time, the water may begin to fog, the filter might go unreplaced, and next thing you know Bubbles the Beta is constipated, swimming sideways, and you’re feeding him peas. (Seriously. It’s a thing. If you want to learn more, read this article called “Do Beta Fish Poop?“.)

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, people have keeping fish as pets for at least 4,500 years. The Sumerians, an ancient culture from Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq), kept fish in artificial ponds. The Chinese raised, and were possibly the first to breed fish, around 1000 bce, and their practice of breeding ornamental goldfish was eventually passed on to the Japanese who bred ornamental carp (Aquarium). The first “marine aquarists,” who are people who keep aquariums, were the ancient Romans, who built and filled artificial ponds with fish and water from the ocean. People in England began keeping Goldfish in “glass vessels” in the 1700s, but it is doubtful they survived, since the concept of the oxygen, animal, and plant relationship was not yet mastered (Aquarium).

Photo by Will Wu on

But why do people keep fish? They cannot be cuddled, or provide compassion, like a dog or cat. According to a Burlington Post’s article, “fish are rated the third most popular pet in the world” following behind the expected cats in second, and dogs in first (Fish). Initially, fish were kept for entertainment and food. In the 19th century, the first aquariums were designed to study aquatic plants, but gradually fish were integrated and aquariums became a way to observe, study, and experience underwater life that before had been a mystery (Aquarium). Madame Rondelet, the wife of Guillaume Rondelet (a sixteenth century French physician), earned the term “mother of modern fish keeping” by keeping a fish alive in water for three years (Stissany 1). Gradually aquariums grew into display aquariums for the “study of nature.” The first display aquarium opened to the public in 1853 in London. More opened around the world, and in 1928 there were 45 public aquariums around the world (Aquarium). Today, large public aquariums exist in almost every major city. Today, those large public aquariums provide an essential role in conservation.

Aquariums, and fish keeping, are no longer just for scientific enrichment and educational purposes. Fish keeping now can be seen as a major entertainment and economic enterprise. According to Stissany, “in North America alone some 134 million people visit the 200 or so accredited institutions of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association each year: more people than attend all major league sports venues combined” (Stissany 1). Additionally, “the annual trade in live marine animals is estimated to be worth between $200 million and $300 million (Stissany 2). Big Al’s Pet Supercentres, a respected pet and fish vendor, features 50,000 gallons of water displays, and experienced staff members to answer any question “you need to know to properly care for aquatic pets” (Fish). Fish keeping can also provide emotional stability and opportunity for growth. Some also keep fish to solely boost their “zen.” Modern Aquarists have been known to keep fish to lower stress levels, anxiety, and even blood pressure while others select fish as “starter pets” for their children (Fish).

This is all fine and dandy, but owning an aquarium is not all easy peasy. Of all the fish in the world, “less than 10 percent are adaptable to aquarium living” (Fish). And while those 10 percent are adapted, they cannot feed themselves, select their optimal habitat, or relocate if their current environment is no longer sustainable (Fish). When preparing a new aquarium, a good aquarist considers not only the kind of fish, but plants, features, water type, and the physical design of the aquarium (Beck 8 ). Once an aquarium is established, proper maintenance must be kept beyond just feeding the fish. According to Beck, aquarium care should be follow a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule, complete with water changes, PH tests, glass cleaning, and sludge removal (Beck 21).

I’ve had my fair share of pet fish successes and failures, and I cannot guarantee I always provide elite aquarium care, but I did my best. As a child, we had four goldfish, each appropriately named Mommy, Daddy, Billy, and Vicky. I don’t remember what happened to those fish, they just gradually disappeared… In grade school, I had a blue beta who regularly starred in blurry, film photography photoshoots. In 2009-2010, my roommate and I shared a pet goldfish in college for a semester, until he went missing. Two weeks later we found a jerky fish on our heating vent. Today my husband and I still keep pet fish. They are a staple in our household. I do my best to care for the fish (frozen, skin-peeled peas and all), but goldfish just do not do well. At this moment, we currently house one freshwater angelfish, a catfish, and two and a half snails. Each has taken on a personality of their own. The angelfish is wise, and grumpy, similar to the daddy deer in Bambi. He avoids all human contact, until staring at the water surface for food is a necessity. The catfish has claimed underside of the rock, and will not emerge until all hoomans are perceived asleep, when he proceeds to get the “zoomies.” And the two and a half snails, are well, snails. One is a rogue snail – frequently attempting escape. The other, just a shell, disappeared months ago, perhaps to another snaily dimension? We will never know…

Work Cited

Aquarium. Britannica School, Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Apr. 2015. Accessed 28 Jan. 2019.

Beck, Angela. Fish: Keeping and Caring for Your Pet. New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, July 2013.

“Fish Are Low-Maintenance Pets, Not No-Maintenance Pets.” Burlington Post, 10 Oct. 2018.

Stiassny, Melanie. “Saving Nemo.” Natural History, Mar. 2004.

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