An Embarrassment of Fishes: Moving Day

“Be good,” I’ve begun saying as I leave the apartment. It seems like I’m talking to myself. But I’m saying it to the fish.

When I think about it, I’m not sure what would constitute good behavior on their part. For the adults, not making more fry while I’m gone? (After several days of the tank divider I took pity on them and they were reunited. I went to the basement to do the laundry and when I came back up they were spawning. I took no egg-saving measures and nobody hatched. Divider re-installed.) Good behavior on the part of the fry could be to not die of unknown causes before I get home.

Because part of me is sorry to report that numbers have thinned somewhat of late. I say part of me because my worries about fry demise are balanced by a selfish relief at having fewer fish to find homes for.

At about seven weeks old, the first batch of fry began to experience a few losses per day. The tiny transparent bodies came to rest on the bottom of the crib. I’ve been fretting about it in the theater, on the train, and in bed. Am I proving a derelict fish parent after all? My ignorance had allowed the hatching in the first place. Now was my lack of know-how proving fatal?

I decided it was time to step up my game.

Powdered foods are all right, the experts say. But nothing is better for the fry than freshly hatched brine shrimp. The problem is the freshly hatched part. After fruitless visits to PetSmart and Petco (where friendly employees’ knowledge, somehow, is always limited to what is printed on the back of the package I am considering), my husband and I took a thirty minute drive to a specialty aquarium store to spend $12.99 on a plastic Shrimpery.

  “San Francisco Bay Brand”, the box said. Gourmet seafood, but not for       us. Three plastic packets of Sally’s Hatch Mix were included.

Doubts were already filtering in on the ethics of nurturing infant shrimp  only to feed them to infant fish. As I stirred the eggs into the Shrimpery and put it in a warm place, I tried to see it as plugging in the crock pot.

It would be at least twenty-four hours before the shrimp emerged, and they weren’t the only things I needed to cultivate. An aquarium store employee had suggested that my fry could be suffering from the ammonia from the large tank, which is not dangerous to the adult fish at low levels, but can stunt the tiny ones. It was time for them to get their own place.

The two-gallon tank is seeing a lot of service this year. First it was the hospital, then the nunnery, and now it’s the dorm. But you can’t just pour fish into a fresh tank (take note, potential adoptive parents). Every thriving fish-tank has a helpful bacteria population which alleviates the toxic by-products of life in the tank. A new fish-tank must be colonized by these bacteria before the fish arrive. This is one reason many people think that goldfish have a lifespan of roughly two days, once purchased. Fortunately I had a head-start with the large tank, and I transferred a plastic plant, some gravel and a filter element to the small tank, and let the tank run for about 30 hours.

If you're the person who gave us this casserole dish as a wedding present, I hope you're not too miffed to see how I'm using it. No receptacle is safe anymore at our house.

Then the kids bade goodbye to the crib and moved into the dorm.  They explored their spacious new surroundings in a businesslike manner. My husband noticed his new surroundings as well, namely the fish-tank on the kitchen counter between the cooking utensils and the sugar jar, but gallantly kept his peace.

Meanwhile, the shrimp were hatching. They swam up into the Shrimpery’s plastic top, pulsing orange-brown specks surging toward the light. I consulted a website on brine shrimp raising, and learned that it was even more complicated than I thought, involving worries over relative water salinity and the apparently minute window for the shrimp’s optimum nutritional value to the fish.

Don't go into the light!

I poured the shrimp in with the fry and the feast commenced.

As I hung over the little tank past midnight, I fancied that I had as many worries as parents leaving their child to undergrad orientation. What if the babies got sucked into the filter? What if they were frightened in the relative ocean of two gallons, after the confines of the crib? What if they got hungry?

At least, I told myself, they had a ready snack. The plant has a healthy coating of algae, and, like a dining-hall salad bar, it’s no shrimp cocktail, but it can be grudgingly nibbled at odd hours.

The next day, the risk of the filter still nagged at me, and just to check, I momentarily removed the filter matrix. Four or five fry of various sizes immediately shot out of the filter spout like infants out of a water-slide. Oppressed by guilt, I fixed a cheese-cloth square over the intake pipe with a rubber band.

Then I fed them all their favorite lunch, wrapping a fragment of hard-boiled egg-yolk in another bit of cheesecloth. This becomes an underwater egg-bomb buffet. Through their transparent skins, the fry’s little stomachs began to bulge yellow.

Meanwhile, the adults are sulking too much about their ongoing separation to notice their empty nest. I leaned over the large tank this afternoon, to reaffix the world map that decorates the wall behind it. Suddenly a large splash drenched my face. Princess darted back to the bottom of the tank as I wiped my glasses. I swear she was waiting for my face to get close enough. Definitely not good behavior.

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3 Comments

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  1. You are a devoted fish parent. What a soggy saga.

  2. oh me, oh fry! this is one ‘big fish’ story that isn’t blow out of proportion. kudos to you for your care and efforts!

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