I feel that I owe an apology to many fishkeepers out there, says Nathan Hill, after losing his favourite fish.
Forget everything that I have written. For years I’ve maintained that we don’t lose fish, but that we kill them. We control their existences, down to the finest minutiae, and our errors are their disasters. Screw up a water change, dead. Add too much food, dead. All of it, a balancing act of life and death, at our fingertips and at the behest of our competence. For too long, I thought that the idea of ‘acts of god’ exculpated the true villains — the tank owners. ‘I don’t know why they died’ was not an excuse that drew my sympathy. Rather, it was an irksome deflection of responsibility.
I feel now that I owe an apology to so many. We can lose fish, and I’m doubly chastened about this as it happened to me in spectacular style. We can lose fish, and I’m doubly chastened about this as it happened to me in spectacular style.
Only recently I picked up one of my all time dream species, which some might find to be bland, is the distinctly pretty Nannostomus espei. There’s a picture of one on the right, so you can try to fathom the appeal it has to me.
The fish came home with me from Aqualife Leyland, and went into a well established, Plasticine-soft, acidic set up that has been long matured. In essence, I had what I believed to be the ideal set-up.
Anytime I get fish, I become a paranoid wreck. A single scratch is immediately translated as ‘everything is going to die!’ while a fish lingering quietly at the surface, minding its own business is translated as ‘everything is going to die!’
We’ve all been there, I’m sure.
The following morning, all was good. The fish fed, I went to work and did my thing of ignoring emails and writing waffle. I came home, raced to the tank, and everything looked ravaged.
I did what any self respecting, panicking aquarist would do. I tested, and I tested my water to within an inch of its life. Everything checked out as nominal. No pollutants, no deviant pH value, no lacking or excess hardness. For N. espei, the tank was bob-on. I water changed anyway, some 25%.
The next morning, more had died. I ran another small water change, fled to work and hoped the situation would pass. When I got home another had gone. More of the same. Testing. Small water change. The fish looked boned.
This went on all week. I felt like Icarus plummeting from the sky, unaware of where I’d messed up, but knowing it was going to end badly. I turned over everything in my room trying to find a cause. Fumes from washing my clothes? Unlikely. Deodorant? Given that it was a roll on, applied in the hallway, also unlikely. Were housemates sending up toxic smoke from their diabolical cooking efforts? Possible, but I couldn’t establish the lethal dose of smoke from a cindered pork chop.
Rattling like false teeth
By the weekend, I was down to three pencils, each looking like they sensed the inevitable. I was bitter. I sprawled on my bed and cheered myself with an online WWII dogfighting game, shooting Americans out of the sky at Pearl Harbour in my Mitsubishi.
The sound that came ripping through my room made me think the boiler had exploded. I have skateboards hanging on the wall behind me, and they were rattling like dentures on a corncob. My bed was reverberating. Looking across to the tank, the fish were leaning on to their flanks, or trying to launch themselves, while the water rolled and rattled. Then it stopped. Then it started again.
I ran downstairs, bumping in to a housemate who spends his days indoors. ‘What the hell?’ I asked (I didn’t use the word ‘hell’), and he responded with ‘Yeah, he’s been doing it all week…’
The epiphany was as infuriating as it was redemptive. It turns out the neighbour who had just moved in the weekend before (while I was away from home) was lovingly taking to the wall right behind my tank, every day, with some kind of industrial jackhammer. I smashed his front door so hard my fists were near raw, but to no avail. The tools were just drowning out my knocking. By the time he’d finished and gone, I missed him, and he’s yet to come home again.
I’m down to one pencil now. Through no fault of my own, aside my lack of predicting industrial tool use in someone else’s house, my fish have been ‘lost’.
As I say, I was wrong. It turns out that there are situations beyond our control, and outside of our influence, that can wipe out livestock. Sorry, everyone. Be gentle, I just lost my favourite fish.