This has been a rough week at the lab. I take care of one of the tanks regularly. Actually both tanks. I love fish, if you did not know that just look at my tattoos, either I am in some kind of fish gang or I really love them. I struggle with losing an animal in our care. I know it happens, but I just feel it should not. I once lost a sea star and nearly cried over it. I kind of loathe the lobster because it just kills almost anything in the tank.
On Monday I came into the lab and set my bag on the front of the puffer fish/lobster tank. I noticed the puffer was not looking very good. He was very pale and seemed to be struggling to breathe. I unlocked my door and moved my bags so I could see better. I then realized that the water was not flowing. You see we live right on the ocean, that means our tanks are constantly pumping water from the sea into the tank to regenerate the dissolved oxygen and plankton supply. The fact that the puffer was struggling so bad told me it had been off for quite some time. I checked the knob to ensure no one had turned it off, but nothing came out. I immediately panicked. I am really good at a panicking.
I ran to find maintenance crew and the security guy knew exactly what was happening, the pump had shut down. The lionfish tank was not as affected because it had an aeration stone in it, but all the fish and the lobster were struggling severely. We got the water back on, but the puffer was so depleted he allowed me to touch him with the net. He could not even puff up to defend himself. I was so stressed, but one of our staff scientists suggested putting an aeration stone in a smaller container inside the tank and dropping him into it. I did this, I call it the fish hospital. (Sadly I was too stressed to capture this in pictures!) I then had to go out to sea for an exhibit collection expedition. The two ladies who work in housekeeping kept coming up to me telling me the fish not doing so well. After I put it into the bucket they were asking if he was going to be alright? This is a huge shift in action and mindset for them.
You see, here in Jamaica, animals are for protection, food and a small percentage are for pets. Most Jamaicans do not attach to animals the way many Americans do. There are a few that have those cute little toy dogs, but mostly animals are objects not companions. For these two Jamaican ladies to show so much concern for a fish is pretty amazing to me. I am pretty certain they both said a little prayer for him as they watched him throughout the day, I got many updates throughout the day. “The fish is doing better!” “Look he swim a little bit!” “Oh he is moving more!” So how did this little fish capture the love of the people in the lab? I think that fact that he comes to the front when someone stands there, and he reacts to you and almost interacts with you is a huge component to this. The fact that he recognizes us and is actually happy to see us is heart warming and these ladies took notice of how he reacted to them. So my first real experience with Jamaicans caring about an animal was the near death of a silly little fish. A silly little fish! A fish that has personality and shows affection. If this is the only thing that changes here is that two ladies for the first time saw an animal as more than food or protection, I have done well!
FYI the maintenance men and the security are also very attached to this silly little fish! Also without an underwater camera fish pictures are hard to take! This morning was also another tragedy. We lost most of the fish in the wetlab and one from the lionfish tank. The pump went down again last night but I had one aerator in each of my tanks so they survived, minus the one that might have been getting sick. It saddens me and makes me feel like a terrible fish mommy! Aquaman would be so disappointed in me!