You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

Sometimes the question you do not ask is the most important question. I was a clerk working in my first Aquarium store when I was approached by a young hobbyist interested in one of the Percula Clownfish we had for sale. He asked me if it was a true Percula or an Ocellaris Clown and I pointed out that this was a true Percula. He seemed happy with that and said he would be back later. About a week later he returned and talked to me about which frozen foods he should use to feed the Percula. We discussed Frozen Brine Shrimp and Formula II foods. Once again he said he would be back. Another week goes by and he comes in with a big smile and tells me he is ready to buy the Percula Clown. I asked what size his aquarium was (30 gallons) and what other fish were in  the tank (new tank) and then bagged up his purchase.  The next day he returned with a frown on his face and a plastic bag with the dead Percula. We had a live warranty and as I went to replace the fish, I asked how he acclimated the fish (he did it right) and then what was the temperature, pH and salinity of his water. He gave me a blank look and asked what salinity meant. His aquarium was a freshwater aquarium! He appeared so knowledgeable about the fish I never thought to ask if it was a saltwater aquarium! We discussed the “problem” and he went home happy with a Clown Loach for his aquarium. I never again forgot to ask about the water quality first!

It Is Not As You Think It Is

I had another customer that bought some aquarium supplies and live fish for their freshwater aquarium. This was her first aquarium with live fish and we talked about everything from filters, tropical fish food to aquarium cleaning. After discussing the different types of freshwater fish the customer decide to start a peaceful, community style aquarium with Serpae Tetras, Gold Gouramis and Corydora catfish. She was back 2 days later and all of the fish had died. We discussed the usually suspects and could not find a reason to explain the deaths. We bagged up a few replacements and she went back home. Two days later she was back with more deceased fish and a large bag of water from her aquarium for us to test. The minute I grabbed the bag of water I knew what was the answer to the problem. The water was very warm to the touch and when I used a digital thermometer to measure the water, the temperature was over 95F. I pointed this out and she said that the thermometer on her tank was reading 76F so I had her dip her hand in one of my tanks and she stated how cold it felt. I suggested a new thermometer and asked her to double-check the aquarium temperature before we tried anymore live fish. She called me from her home and said it was reading over 97F and I advised her how to adjust her submersible heater and to double-check the temperature in the morning. The next day the water temperature had stabilized at 76F and the new fish had a chance to live happily ever after.

You Are Better Than Me if You Thought of This One

This is a sad story. One of my better customers and fellow Aquarium Society member decided he wanted to try a marine aquarium for his son  and came to my store to buy a 55 gallon tank, UG Filter, two Maxi-Jet 600’s, crushed coral, salt mix and a hydrometer. He took everything home to his son and let him set up the aquarium. A few days later they came into the store and we tested the water (salinity & pH) and he picked out a couple of Damsels to start to cycle the aquarium. I also gave him a couple of handfuls of crushed coral from one of my tanks to help with cycling the aquarium. Father and son were back the next day and told me the Damsels had died in less than 30 minutes! They brought another water sample and we double checked everything (including temperature) and could not find anything wrong. They took a couple more fish home and called an hour later to say they were already dead. We discussed a “toxic” salt mix and they drained the aquarium, rinsed the substrate and started over with a new bag of Instant Ocean. (After talking to the manufacturer, we sent the rest of the first bag to Instant Ocean to have them test it for toxins.) After letting everything settle for a few days they came in and took home a couple more Damsels. Unbelievably they were on the phone in less than an hour and the new fish were once again dead!. At this time I decided there had to be something toxic about the system and told them to bring back everything. They went home with a completely new tank, filter, etc to set up. About a week later they stopped by to get some Damsels. They took them home and were on the phone in under an hour to tell me the new fish had still died! We were all totally mystified (or cursed). Grasping at straws I ask the son if he had mixed the water in the aquarium or used some other container. He said he mixed it up 5 gallons at a time in a bucket. Suddenly in the background I heard his father ask where he had got the bucket. The son replied from the garage and the father let out a loud gasp and said that it was the bucket he used to mix insecticides to spray on the yard!! After two aquarium set ups and 8 poor Damsels the problem was solved. Moral of the story, have a special bucket and label it FISH ONLY for all water changes. You hear it time and time again, there are no stupid questions, you just have to think up the right question to ask.

About The Author Don Roberts

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