do you have an obligation if you see a fish like this?

As Aquarium Enthusiasts–Do we have an obligation?

When you walk into a professional business complex and see an aquarium in the lobby–do you stop and take an excessively long gaze at the tank like I do?

I’ve run into a few of these tanks over the last few weeks and became a little self-conscious when I realized I had overstayed my welcome in the lobby. The front lobby aquarium has always puzzled me a bit, because the people who tend to work adjacent to them always seem so disinterested. All I tend to see are children and the occasional aquarium nerd parked in front of them.

The reason I was parked (or maybe loitering) in front of this aquarium is that this particular tank had one of the largest and most show-stopping surgeon fish (A Sohal Tang, I think) I have seen in quite some time.

do you have an obligation if you see a fish like this?
This picture doesn’t do this majestic fish justice

The picture doesn’t do the fish justice. It was in an extremely bright lobby and there was a tremendous, distracting reflection in the aquarium glass. As it was, I lingered in front of the tank (trying to get a good picture) for an uncomfortably long time. But the poor photography skills and oblique angle of the shot minimize the stature and beauty of the fish. Please take my word for it.

The fish-only tank was drab, but the surgeonfish seemed well-fed and healthy, just over-sized for the tank it was in.  In defense of the business and operator undoubtedly maintaining the tank–it was at least an 8-foot long tank, so it was probably a 300 gallon tank. But even with that long of a tank, the majestic , not a small tank by any definition and larger than the recommended minimum size on a reputable website, yet the fully grown surgeon looked like Gulliver, from Gulliver’s Travels. I also knew that the people all around me–the people who walked through this lobby each and every day didn’t appreciate how active tangs can be, how fast they can swim or how much space they really need. But I couldn’t help but wonder if the fish belonged in a hard-to-conceive larger tank.

On one hand, the fish was exquisitely taken care of–great coloration, fat but not overfed like any good tang should be,with unblemished fins and probably 16 inches long (a size not many fish reach in captivity). This nearly perfect specimen was in a tank it could swim end-to-end with a single flick of the tail. This otherwise gorgeous, healthy fish, capable of bursts of speed and active movement, could swim the length of the tank with a flick of the tail and struggled a bit to turn around (with the decorations in the tank) when I got a little too close to the tank. That’s what got me wondering this week:

As educated aquarium enthusiasts–do we have an obligation?

An strong argument could be made that in this example, because the fish in the tank were impeccably healthy, they were well cared for. But I also know that I have seen much worse, and it made me wonder–am I obligated speak up? To whom? Certainly the receptionist didn’t care (or at least wasn’t fazed). To the people working in the building, the aquarium was just a structure. Another part of the office cleaned by a maintenance crew.

But to us loiterers, who stop dead in our tracks to gawk and take pictures of every tank we walk past–what are we supposed to do when we see a really bad case–a case much worse than this one? I feel like we should have a place to turn, an approach to take, a way to educate the owner/maintainer and help the animals inside.

To be clear, I don’t think this situation was that bad. The tank was probably 8-feet long and the fish was clearly healthy. But it did make me want to be better prepared for next time.

What would you do? Would you speak up? Have you spoken up? I feel like I want to have a plan so that I know what to do next time. Any suggestions?






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