When I was a kid, I loved animals, any and all animals. I did everything I could to watch them, be with them, be near them, care for them, but NEVER EVER scare or hurt them. My oldest brother wanted to be a marine biologist, so I was exposed to all sorts of fish, reptiles and snakes, and then the usual turtles, cats, mice, gerbils and hamsters that alot of us dealt with in our childhoods.

Mrs. Wright who owned the neighborhood pet shop was shocked that I did not wind up becoming a veterinarian because she was certain that I would. The only flaw to that thinking was that I was morally opposed and refused to dissect during biology class. Back in those days it was rather difficult to go very far in biology if you were opposed to dissection. But now it’s a different world, with computer animated programs you can go quite far in the biological sciences before you are forced to suck it up and start cutting. Well, at least that’s what I’ve heard.

In 2005, a friend of mine offered me a very nice 55 gallon aquarium. It is a beautiful acrylic display tank. I actually pondered this decision. Though I loved keeping fish in the past, I had changed now, my beliefs encompassed things like whether those fish are tank raised, or wild caught. Is my desire to have this creature swimming in a tank in my apartment hurting the wild populations or environment in any way? Can I in good conscience be responsible for even more lives? I am already the human caregiver to 5 cats. Well, as I was doing my heavy soul searching, I came home one day and John, my sig other, had transformed our dining room into an aquatic wonderland. Seashells hanging on the walls and strewn about, a reading chair and table, fishnets artistically draped above the doorways, mythos inspired lithographs on the walls… Well my decision was made. I just had to be as conscientious as I could about what I was doing.

Unfortunately, I made alot of mistakes establishing the tank, lost a number of fish in the process and felt very, very bad and frustrated, but instead of writing an essay of that I will simply give some words of advice.

  • Know your fish, or the ones you want to get. How long do they live? What is their behaviour? Are they aggressive? Do they need to live in schools, i.e. 5 or more individuals? What are their dietary needs? What kind of water conditions do they need? I.e. temperature, hard or soft water, and marine, brackish, or fresh water conditions are the main ones. How big will this fish get? Many people make the mistake of getting a fish for a tank that it will only outgrow in several months. Alot of fish you buy in stores will reach their adult sizes in 2 – 3 years. And it is a very sad myth that a fish won’t outgrow the tank you have it in. It will and what happens is the fish stunts, internal organs do not develop properly, and this condition leads to the premature death of the fish.
  • Less is more… A trusted member of my trusted fish shop put it to me this way. “Are you more comfortable on a crowded plane? Or in one that’s not so crowded?” When you’re considering bringing home more fish, just ask yourself that question.
  • Does it look like something is missing? Before you run out and buy more fish consider this… What portion of the tank do your current fish residents swim in? Are they top dwellers, middle dwellers, bottom dwellers? Are they schoolers? Are they loners? I made this mistake and kept on buying fish. What I didn’t realize was that I was overstocking my tank, and that I needed to add a couple of fish that swim in the top portion of the tank. Instead, I had several schools of fish that all swim in the mid to lower regions making the upper portions look very empty. Also, see if maybe adding decorations or plants will fill in whatever you feel might be missing.
    • Study up on keeping fish.Know the language and know something about it before starting out if you can. For example, know what it means to cycle, to test for water parameters, what the presence of ammonia, nitrite and nitrates in your tank means and how each can affect your fish. The more familiar you are with what you are trying to do, the better off you’ll be in determining whether a fish shop is good or bad, whether the person you are talking to knows what they are talking about or not, whether they are just of different minds and may be giving a valid opinion but one that may differ from your own. In my experience, books were not the best source of information for me, most of the information was old and outdated, or just wrong. The people in shops don’t necessarily know what they are talking about. Many are just there to sell and that’s it. I have found that the internet and fish magazines are extremely valuable resources when diving into the world of keeping aquariums.
    • These are sentient beings. They feel good or bad, have needs, get scared, get stressed out, suffer pain, play and enjoy themselves just like every other animal. They are pets and we are their sole source for having their needs met. It’s a big responsibility, but rewarding and very well worth it.

If you are reading this and have already made stocking mistakes, or have other problems, that’s okay. There are things you can do about it. Many privately owned fish shops will take in fish as donations, not all, but some. And there is always room for more tanks in your home if you don’t want to give up your beloved pets. We have 5 tanks now. 4 due to stocking issues and 1 because we added Oregon Newts to our menagerie.

Our Aquarium: How it all began.
By: Mary Duros


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