Or rather, don’t. If I’m gonna be remembered for saving a fish’s life, I’d really rather it not be this one.
So yesterday, I was at the grand opening of Sweet Bikes – an awesome bike shop in Canton, MI run by some good friends. If you drop in and mention this blog post, they’ll give you an awesome bike completely free [*]. I was unannounced and showed up as a surprise because hey, grand openings only happen once, right? So I’m wandering around, making small talk, the usual. One of the topics of conversation was the sweet fish tank they had in there.
Now, I’m a fan of fish tanks in general. You set one up, chuck some fish in it, and voila! You have pets! You are now automatically a lover of animals, a snappy dresser, and one helluva dancer. I am speaking, of course, about freshwater fish tanks. Saltwater fish tanks are another matter altogether. When you have a saltwater tank, you have to spec out which one you’re going to buy 14 months in advance. Then when the stars finally come together and Mercury is in retrograde with a 93 degree declination, you can set up the tank. Initially, the tank must be filled with 28% distilled water, 44% tap water and 28% unicorn tears and left to run untouched and unobserved for 37 days. Then and only then can you consider thinking about the possibility of introducing fish. Or maybe just one fish, since each saltwater fish seems to cost 87 times more than the entire cost of an entire freshwater setup so if it dies, you’ve taken out that second mortgage for no good reason.
So when I saw that they had a fish tank, I was intrigued. When I saw that it was saltwater, I was impressed.
Several hours and lots of chit-chat later, someone mentions that the pufferfish (note: I believe it’s actually a porcupinefish, not a pufferfish) was puffed. Now that’s kinda cool, because it’s an interesting self-defense mechanism: fish gets threatened, fish puffs up and gets all prickly. Not to mention it’s poisonous as hell so even if something does manage to eat it, chances are it’s gonna die. Only problem is that pufferfish do not stay puffed – they deflate when the threat is no longer there and they are no longer stressed out. Nor do they bob and float on their sides while their comically-small-in-comparison fins flap and twitch helplessly.
One call to the fish doctor confirms what we all though: something’s just a little messed up here. Doc says that when a puffer stays puffed with air for too long and can’t deflate itself, the way to help it is to wrangle fish so that its mouth is facing upward, so the air can get outta the fish. This involves whatever’s handy to reposition the fish – aquarium net, or….well, an aquarium net was kinda all there was. Since everyone else was busy either running the store, occupying the people running the store, or buying things since it’s a store, I offered to try and de-puff the fish.
Roughly 30 minutes into manipulating this fish, I notice that every time it loses some air, it adjusts and once in a while tends to float back up to the surface. Where it sucks in more air. Because it’s still stressed. This is the Catch-22 of the whole thing: fish won’t deflate until it’s no longer stressed, but me helping it deflate by moving it around is only serving to stress it out. Joseph Heller is a jerk sometimes. But the fish doctor went to fish school for 8 fish years, so who am I to second guess his advice?
I lost track of time, but I think it was about 30 minutes later when I noticed that the fish was starting to get quite a bit softer. Squishy, even. Once it hit a certain level of squishitude, it started to really move its fins and get a lot more active. I figured I’d gotten enough air out of it manually that maybe it had lost enough to un-puff itself. So I let it go and it dutifully bounces back to the surface on its side. But it didn’t automatically re-inflate, and after about 30 seconds, looked like it was doing its damnedest to kick its own ass – thrashing, twitching and belching all over the place. Sorta reminded me of college for some reason. But, lo and behold, a few seconds later it starts swimming away, all de-airified.
Seriously though, what kind of creature nearly lets its own self-defense mechanism kill it? If this fish ever swam in a school, it was most certainly riding the short bus.
[*] – what are you, crazy? You’re not getting a free bike for mentioning a blog post! But you should drop in anyway, as they’ve got a great selection and damned good prices.