The Dilemma of Rescuing Fish

“rescue” can mean different things to different people, and is not always so black-and-white.

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Long time no see!

A trend in the fish keeping community has caught my attention, one that has a few potential problems in it that I think should be discussed. Let’s start at the beginning. Everyone in the aquarium hobby I think has experienced at one time or another, a store that sells large quantities of fish and doesn’t do a very good job of keeping them, ensuring they are healthy and well cared for, etc. Keeping in line with my own aquarium keeping interests, I will talk specifically here of the betta fish.

Most often in pet stores betta are kept in very small containers, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sometimes their water quality is left to become very poor in those containers, or they are not fed as they should be, or they are caused unnecessary stress, etc. The bottom line is this: some places, but certainly not all, take very poor care of what the pet industry has long looked at as a cheap, expendable pets. Betta, because the males must be kept separate and they live somewhat longer than other types of fish in poor water quality with the aid of a labyrinth organ, often get the very shortest end of the stick. In short, the lower quality fish that are cheap to produce and sell are not worth the trouble to care for at some stores.

This has, understandably, led to fish lovers and betta lovers everywhere embarking on rescue missions to save the fish from their dismal life on a shelf. This is no doubt admirable. The first step in creating change is to become aware of a problem in the industry, and behavior like this signals that people are becoming increasingly aware of bad pet store practices. However, as I mentioned, this is where some grey areas begin.

I think it’s safe to say that the main goal of said rescuers is to save the lives of individual fish. Thinking bigger picture, I hope the goal is also to save all the fish from being subjected to such lazy care and fish keeping practices.

The problem is this, a large percent of people looking to rescue bettas, purchase the sick or unhealthy fish from the stores in order to better care for them.

This is immediately gratifying, in that the fish left without care can be taken home at once and their conditions can be improved. However, on the flipside, it must be mentioned that the act of purchasing a sick fish, has also given money directly to the store that is using bad practices.

Of course, some rescuers have some harsh words for a store, or post somewhere about how they rescued, but I hope I’m not being too skeptical in thinking that the words of paying individual customers are not going to stop a store from keeping fish the way they do, after all it worked—they sold the fish without taking care of it and made a profit. And while spreading the word of how fish are kept in bad conditions is helpful, it also encourages more people to do the same, to go out and buy more fish from pet stores using bad practices, subsequently bringing more and more money into the stores, because they do use bad practices. In the world of business where numbers are sometimes more important than individual voices, this can potentially only make the problem of pet stores incorrectly keeping fish even worse.

So what’s the answer? I suppose it depends on the person. In one school of thought, (school, ha fish pun, maybe…) it’s ok to buy sick and unhealthy fish, because letting fish die while we wait for the industry to change is cruel to the fish in the stores now. In another, the best thing to do is stop buying unhealthy fish altogether and force businesses to keep them healthy, or not make any sales at all. Though I think this gets complicated when thinking of the general public being educated enough on fish to even know accurately the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy fish. I have seen before someone mistake a healthy crowntail for a betta with ripped fins for example.

It seems that a good option would be to approach stores that have unhealthy fish and try and get them to surrender the fish. This means trying to convince them that the fish they’re keeping are unhealthy for one (you should have researched facts) will probably not sell in that condition two (which is tricky, some places know real fish people won’t buy sick fish, some know people buy sick fish all the time and don’t care) and that the fish will soon die if it is kept in its environment three, resulting in a total loss of profit anyway (this is pretty simple if the facts are clear). With a little bit of luck, and trust in the goodness of our fellow man or woman, stores with unhealthy fish will hopefully surrender dying fish to those willing to take them.

The effort of anyone with a heart to rescue should be appreciated of course, but the term “rescue” shouldn’t really be thrown around in all cases. It will take a lot to permanently change the way the stores look at fish. Hopefully it can be done. Having fish easily available to the public is a great way to foster interest in the hobby that deserves growth and expansion in America. Getting stores to also encourage only proper fish keeping practices and sell only suitable tanks and equipment, while providing correct information, well, that’s a whole ‘nother article.

Of course, anyone interested in the moral questions of buying/rescuing fish and other ways they can help create change for all fish for the better, should do as much research as they can. They should reach out to those that have a greater impact on the fish keeping community, and any who just love animals or want to help. Extreme practices are hardly ever the right choice, but there are meaningful ways that change can be created in a positive way from individuals working together to give a voice to an animal without one that is often forgotten.

Betta, and all fish, can make wonderful, loving pets in the right homes. They deserve a chance to get there safely. The questions and issues with buying and rescuing betta fish are never black and white, and people all have their own opinions. I simply wish to raise some questions, offer different views, and get people thinking a little more about what impact their well-intended actions may be having.

One thing is for sure, with a community full of so many good-hearted, determined pet lovers, the future of the aquarium hobby, and the fish involved, will be even better with time.

 

Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)

Making a filter safe for Betta fish

For one of the most commonly kept pet fish in America, there is shockingly little consideration given to the Betta. There is not much equipment really made for them and as a result they are one of the most improperly kept fish. This is for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the aquarium hobby likes to focus on larger more expensive fish because they know that “real” aquarium keepers want those fish more than your everyday Walmart Betta, and are the ones looking to buy expensive equipment for their expensive fish.

Secondly, following that, Betta are a cheaper, more inexpensive fish to buy if you’re grabbing them from a local pet store, so sadly many people get them for that very reason. As the equipment making industry expects, people aren’t going to pay way more money for equipment and set up than they do for the fish itself. Either they don’t have it, because if they did they would’ve gotten a more expensive fish, or they don’t want a pet they have to spend money on, so they buy the cheapest one they can find, which will either be a Betta or a goldfish.

This leads to thirdly that Betta are marketed and sold as cheap fish that don’t need “regular fish” care. They are portrayed as some super fish that lives in mud and happens to have a short natural lifespan. The more Bettas die early with people thinking it’s all good and normal, the more Bettas the stores can sell back to them in the future. Companies know there is a market for people who want pets that are cheap, make no noise, have little smell and don’t make a mess, and they know that those people are not interested in aquarium keeping seriously. (If they knew it could also be messy and was just as much work as any other pet it would lose its appeal, since the payoff, if you don’t enjoy the hobby in itself, is very minimal for most)

But there are ways Betta keepers can have what they need for their fish to live their full, long, happy lives like any other fish. It just takes a bit more customization.

I feel comfortable saying that Bettas do much better with a filter. I don’t necessarily think a filter is necessary all the time in every set up and I think for shorter periods Bettas will be fine without one. (see previous posts) However, I will say all of my long-term success with Bettas always involved a filter. Simply put, because of their anatomy they can live without one, but I just don’t think they can thrive indefinitely that way unless you have a much better set up, care system and time devotion than I did, and I had a fair amount.

On the flip side of that, filters can be extremely dangerous to Bettas if the keeper is not vigilant and diligent with what they choose and how they set it up.

It breaks down like this, Bettas have been bred to have beautiful, flowy fins above all else (except the plakat tail type that more closely resembles the wild Betta tail shape). Therefore, they are not always strong swimmers, relying mostly on their little pectorals (the ones they flutter on their sides). Other fish don’t have these problems, so the guards or cages on filters are made to keep the body of a fish from being sucked up through the intake tube of the filter, they are not made fine enough to keep delicate, long fins that other fish species don’t have from being sucked inside. Luckily this is an easy fix.

I have modified the intake on two different types of filters recently. One had no guard on the intake tube, so I bought a fish scooping net made to catch the fish and cut the net part off. With just a square-ish piece of water safe netting, I stretched it over the bottom of the tube and secured it with a rubber band. This creates a fine enough guard that even fins won’t get sucked inside and ripped apart, yet water can still get through.

Note: if you are using rubber bands make sure they’re not dyed or perfumed in any way etc. Also replace them when they start to break down in the water.

Another note, you’ll have to take the net off and clean it fairly frequently, maybe even weekly depending on your set up because it is so fine and will grow algae and clog up quickly if not kept clean. If it does that, the motor can struggle to pull in water and burn up, ultimately breaking your filter.

A second way to modify an intake is to leave the original guard on the tube. I found, in my local pet store, a filter sponge. It was a cube of blue sponge, hollowed inside and filled with carbon pellets. It was made to be inserted in a filter to help chemically filter impurities from the water. (more on filters to come). All I did was remove the top of the sponge that was precut and empty out the carbon. I then slid the intake tube into the hollow middle of the sponge and secured the sides tight around the tube with a rubber band. The depth of the sponge happened to be enough to cover the length of the guard at the end of the intake tube. Because the sponge was made to be in a filter, it was made to have a lot of water pass easily through it, so it really didn’t block the water from going into the filter at all. Not all types of sponges may be as good for this, but any type of filter sponge should be able to do the job. My Betta now sits atop the sponge in his free time.

The other filter part that needs to be altered is the output, where the cleaned water from the filer flows back out into the aquarium. Going back to how Bettas aren’t good swimmers, they don’t necessarily come from bodies of water that have a great amount of current. It can stress them out and lead to illness if it is overwhelming and they cannot get away from it. Lots of fish species love current, so lots of filters are made to create current in their output. There is one easy way I have personally used to lower a current from an output myself. The water on my filter dropped off a little lip and fell to the aquarium like a waterfall. First I raised the water level so the fall was as little as possible, then I took an empty water bottle and cut off the top above the lable and the bottom below the label. I then removed the label and cut up one side so that I was left with a “C” shaped piece of plastic. I then secured the plastic over the lip so that it curled under the waterfall. The water was running out of the filter and falling on the plastic then running out each side of the submerged plastic in a dispersed lesser current. I can post some pictures of the process if it’s helpful, but I have since seen several places online that have almost identical step by step instructions with pictures.

With those steps done, you protect your fish from getting sucked into the filter, and protect them from getting pushed around constantly by what comes out of the filter. It makes it so that any filter really can work for a betta. They do truly make water quality so much better, which is really the key to a fish being happy and healthy. Since using filters, I have seen my fish brighten in color, regrow some ripped and missing fins and become more active and overall healthy. They really make all the difference when done properly and are really a piece of equipment to invest in (though not all are that expensive and there are some great deals out there!). If you want what is really best for your fish I think you’ll be glad you did. I can talk more later about why some people don’t think that filters are necessary for Betta, but all I can say from my experience is they may not need them all the time to live, but they definitely need them to thrive. I’ve said it before, water quality is the most important part of their life.

I am not a handy person and I’m sure there are many other ways out there to make filters safe for Bettas. But I think anyone can make these ideas work and I really think they should. Like any other living animal, Bettas deserve proper care. It only takes a little while to set up a safe filter and it will make all the difference for the rest of their lives. With less force on output, filters are also typically less noisy, and having a finer guard to clean, keeps more particles from having to be cleaned out of the inside of the filter! It’s a win-win for you and your fishy friend.

For an extra note: when in doubt you can always buy a filter rated for more gallons than what’s in your aquarium. It will do a better job cleaning. Remember that monitoring the flow and having current going in and out of a filter is more of a problem the smaller the tank, when you get into the very small, because the fish can literally not escape it and rest.

Of course other equipment, like a heater is also necessary for a great aquarium, but we’ll get to that later. Water quality should be a top priority, and this is a pretty easy way to help it. I hope something in here is a little helpful. The bettas I have kept with filters really came into their full colors and finnage and are absolutely beautiful; and I wish I would’ve known to use them sooner!

Don’t forget, diy filter changes CAN go horribly wrong, if you’re like me and make mistakes before finding the right way that works for you BUT that’s a story for another time. Give a filter a chance and make it safe for your fish to change their whole world for the better.

 

Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)

 

Double the fin, double the love.

One incredible little fish started this journey of betta fish and aquarium keeping that has truly changed my life.

I wasn’t always an aquarium enthusiast. There was a time I, like many other American children, bought fish from a *ahem* popular local super store on a whim, and half the time ended up returning them within the week refund date because they were already dead. Truthfully, I think I never gave it much thought, I was a child with many other mammalian pets that believed the common lies of the industry; how specifically betta fish (who get the very shortest end of the stick in the pet trade in my opinion) don’t live long anyway and can be cared for with very little time and effort. HA.

Over roughly five years or so, once I was in college and battling a slump of not fitting in, I would develop a deep passion for researching and learning and caring for betta fish. I would make mistakes, and I would have some success. But before I start into any of the specifics let me start at the heart: why I love betta fish so much. There a couple theories, such as; I was for the first time in my life, isolated from animals and craving their companionship but banned from having anything that breathed air in a dorm room BUT I like to say it was all to do with one incredible little fish. He wasn’t actually my first betta, but he was the first that I was able to care for well enough that we could have a long lasting relationship.

His name is Luxe. Not Lex, like Lex Luthor (a common misconception) not Lucks, not Lux, but luxe as in Deluxe. Yes, I am somewhat chagrined to admit, I have an affinity for strange names. I named my betta of nearly three years now, after what was written on the sign over the shelf I plucked him from. It said “Deluxe Betta” so yes, his full name is Deluxe, but I have only ever called him Luxe.

Coming to the title of this post, the sign over my future finned friend said “Deluxe” because he is a bi-colored, double tailed, half-moon male betta splenden. (Bonus: you get the title of the blog now right? Betta splenden is the name of the fish species, bettaSPLENDID cause they’re, well, splendid, okay I’ll stop) All of those descriptors are a fancy way of saying he was a male Siamese fighting fish (more on how that name came to be in the future) that had a navy blue/purplish body with orange in his fins. Instead of the usual single caudal fin, the fin at the end of the caudal peduncle (tail end of the fish), what split into two separate caudal fins; one of the many beautiful fin types betta fish can be bred with. His fins were also delicate, half-moon shapes making him overall, well gorgeous- if I do say so.

Luxe was the first double tailed betta I had ever seen in person. I didn’t give much thought then, to the notoriously tricky to keep perfect tail type. I was simply in awe at a slightly better “pet store” quality betta, over the previous bettas I had seen while getting groceries. He was the last left on the shelf and had a long, full tail (though it already had a small rip I didn’t see until later). I scooped him up and preceded to continue to make several small and large errors in keeping him.

However, as I said, nearly three years later he is doing much better in his newest tank, growing back a lot (we’ll get there later) and overall just still truck’in. He has allowed me to fall deeper and deeper in love with this amazing world of betta keeping and aquarium keeping and let me see first hand, in practice, all the knowledge I’ve spent the years acquiring.

I’ve adopted and helped many other bettas find homes along the way. I’ve taught fish tricks and made huge beginner mistakes. I’ve nearly crashed whole aquariums and seen fish grow and become happier and more beautiful than they were when they came.

Bottom line is this, I love betta fish, in every way, shape and form they come. I’ve been to fish shows, developed an interest in fish themed art, collected weird fish odds and ends and overall been obsessed with this hobby that has truly brought me so much happiness and purpose.

And all the stories and experiences I have, I only wish I’d known sooner. So here they are for you.

Fall in love with this hobby as I have- or hey, at least be mildly entertained by my strange and fun obsession. I want to weave the personal- the individual fish, the individual memories and experiences- with the knowledge gained and opinions formed. I want to spread awareness and information and appreciation, but I won’t lose the fun and the emotion of forming relationships with incredible, intelligent and beautiful pets.

Follow my journey down the rabbit hole of aquarium keeping and see how ended up falling backwards into this amazing hobby, what I’ve learned, and where we’ll go from here.

Love from me and Luxe.

(and thanks for sticking with me this long!)