Magazine publishes guide to cosmetic fish surgery

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A Singapore aquarium magazine has published an article which shows how cosmetic surgery can be performed on pet fish by amputating their tails and injecting them with dyes.

The article published in Chinese in Fish Love Magazine, provides a step-by-step guide to producing a tail-less Flowerhorn cichlid using a pair of scissors and some antibiotics, and offers details on how to produce dyed Parrot cichlids using a hypodermic needle and some food colouring.

Prior to its publication there had been no direct evidence that the tail-less flowerhorn cichlids or heart parrots sometimes sold in the UK were produced by tail amputation, or that the widely available parrot cichlids with a solid body colour derived the colouration from dye injections. "Post-transformation. Voila! Isn't it dazzling? This shows that fishes too need to spice up their lives with some colour!"The article describes fish cosmetic surgery as a "bold and creative concept". It suggests that the processes involved in cosmetic fish surgery are less invasive than those used by Michael Jackson:

"Compared to Michael's 'brave deeds', to perform tail reconstruction surgery on blood parrots and flowerhorns would only be a small molehill compared to the Himalayas", the article says.

"Many have shown great and grave concern over the issues of 'pet cosmetic surgery'. What we have observed is: Despite countless protests and efforts by SPCA and other animal-loving organisation and support-groups, such surgical processes are still be carried out equally, if not more rampantly. These fishes that had undergone the 'facelift' operations command a much higher premium than the normal fishes which have not."

Tail amputationIn a gruesome sequence of images, a small Flowerhorn cichlid is shown having its tail amputated with a pair of scissors, apparently without an anaesthetic. The wound is then cleaned, and the now tail-less fish is pictured in an aquarium dosed with an anti-bacterial medication to prevent the wound becoming infected.

The translated captions read: "The fishes are carefully selected, usually between 1-1.5" in length, when the caudal fin rays have not fully developed or hardened. Position the scissors or abrasive tool on the spot where the incision is to be made and make a decision to snip! Select a spot which is slightly past the caudal peduncle for the incision so as not to damage the main body of the fish. Apply a generous amount of 'anti-inflammation' medication to minimise bacterial infection."

The article then advises not keeping fishes with their "tails snipped" in community tanks with fishes that have not undergone the process. It goes on: "To be on the safe side, fishes that have undergone the operation should be first kept in a tank containing antibiotics and anti-bacterial medication.

"Fishes that had undergone the surgical removal of their tails should be monitored closely then after. It would take approximately two weeks for the wounds to heal effectively."

Dye your own fishThere has been a great deal of speculation about the methods in which dyed parrot cichlids are produced. Evidence from the fisheries industry has shown that certain dyes can be taken up when fish are held in a dye solution over an extended period, and this was widely believed to be the method in which coloured parrot cichlids were being produced. "Parrot cichlids are actually produced in a similar manner to other dyed fishes, using multiple injections..."Others have speculated that Parrot cichlids are dipped in a chemical to remove their mucus and then have a dye applied directly to their skin. There is, however, no evidence to support this theory.

The article provides evidence to show that the Parrot cichlids are actually produced in a similar manner to other dyed fishes, using multiple injections of food colouring from a hypodermic needle.

The translated picture captions read: "Just as people would have their eye-lids done, fishes can also be made more appealing. But instead of the surgical scalpel, all can be done with a simple needle.

"Essential tools for the transformation - syringes, food dyes and disposable gloves. It would take about a day or so for the injected dyes to spread to the desired portion. Injected fishes should not be kept with plecos. The latter would suck and 'feast' on the food colouring.

"Before the transformation the fish looks lively and active. For the first few hours after colour injection, the fish might appear lethargic and listless. Not to worry! It would revive to its bubbly old self in a day's time."

"Post-transformation. Voila! Isn't it dazzling? This shows that fishes too need to spice up their lives with some colour!"

The photographs taken during the course of dye injections show that the dye has been injected in a line above the fish's lateral line. The pigment soon spreads to cover much of the flanks of the fish producing a solid colour which still has a slightly darker line of dye where the pigment was injected.

Legal in the UKDefra and the RSPCA confirmed to Practical Fishkeeping that the process of dyeing fish using these techniques could possibly constitute mutilation under the Bill, and a prosecution could be undertaken as a result if the fish were being mistreated in this country.

No anaesthetic is mentioned in the DIY guide to cosmetic fish surgery.

Dyed Parrot cichlids are one of the most widely sold dyed fishes in the UK. Heart parrots, which have had their tails cut off, are also seen occassionally.

However, a loophole in the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill means that it will not be illegal to import fishes mutilated overseas.

Practical Fishkeeping has been running a successful campaign against the sale of dyed fish since 1996 and around 75% of the UK's aquatic retailers have signed a pledge saying that they will not stock fish that have been mutilated in this way.

New varieties of dyed fish are appearing with increasing regularity. In February 2006 we reported that a Hong Kong based aquarium company was offering a service in which it would tattoo words, logos or patterns upon the flanks of fish using a laser.

You can find more details on the dyed fish trade in our FAQ on dyed fish.

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association told Practical Fishkeeping that it does not recommend that any of its members trade in these fish.

Fish Love magazine declined to comment.