T1’s fighting fish woke up dead on Tuesday. It was a couple of years old and was pretty big when we got it, which makes me think it was fairly old then. I’m a big fan of betas and this one was good looking. He still had all his fins and was a deep red color. Last spring he made the move from T1’s room, where it had been largely ignored, to the kitchen. I taught it to come to the front of its bowl and dance when it wanted food. The last week or so it had been listless, laying still at the bottom of the bowl, barely getting up to eat, not dancing at all. It had a name, but I have no idea what that name was. I respected his privacy. So rest in peace, red fighting fish.
The second fish death was more complicated.
T2 loves his fish tank. It’s just a ten gallon starter, but he constantly campaigns to have about ten pounds of fish in there. The main residents are a red tailed shark and an algae eater, with a slowly rotating cast of other characters.
Early last week, one of the fish, a silver one with a black tail, started acting weird. It started twirling. It would obviously be trying to swim regularly, but just couldn’t, instead twisting and spinning as if it were having a seizure. We started to worry about it because it wasn’t able to swim straight long enough to get to the top of the tank to eat.
T2 wasn’t freaking out about it, but he was concerned. He suggested we take the fish to the vet. When we explained that wasn’t really a practical solution his concern switched to the rest of the tank.
“If he’s sick, he might make the other fish sick,” he said.
He wasn’t wrong.
Friday, after the boys went to school, C and I decided to take action. A quick internet search revealed a lot of message boards devoted to tropical fish hobbyists. It also revealed that the situation with the twirling fish was common, had a variety of causes, none of them because it was just in a really good mood, and that the fish was suffering.
“Okay,” I said, “I feel like we should put the poor thing out of its misery.”
“Yeah,” said C. “How? Do we just flush it?”
“I dunno,” I said. “That seems like it might be unpleasant for the fish.”
“Yeah,” said C, “but I mean…it’s a fish.”
“Okay,” I said, “you want to flush it?”
We stood in T2’s room, looking at each other.
“Internet?” she said.
“Internet,” I agreed.
Given the fact I had some difficulty cutting up an already dead octopus, it should be no surprise that actual fish murder was throwing us for a bit of a loop.
According to the same fish message boards that I used to diagnose the issue, and according to two other places I checked to make sure that first group wasn’t made up of sadists who got off on torturing pets, the best way to quickly and humanely kill a tropical fish is to put some ice cubes in a cup of water, put the cup of water in the freezer, let it get cold, take it out and drop in the fish.
“Is that going to work?” said C. “Doesn’t seem like that will work.”
“I too have my doubts,” I said. “But I have multiple sources.”
“I don’t want it in my freezer,” she said.
“You don’t slowly freeze the fish to death,” I explained. “You get the water really cold and the shock kills it immediately.”
I followed the fish killing directions. I caught the poor fish, said goodbye and dropped him in the cup of freezing cold water.
Not, as it happens, just theoretically.
The poor fish died so quickly that I actually thought I had somehow missed the cup and dropped the fish into T2’s open (of course) underwear drawer. I spend a few seconds looking for it amongst the underoos before realizing that the fish had just died instantly and dropped like a rock to the bottom of the cup.
“Did it work?” asked C from the hall, where she had been folding laundry and also pointedly not taking part in the fish slaughter.
“It’s really worked,” I said. “I mean, I can’t believe how quickly it worked.”
“It’s dead?,” she asked.
“I’ve never seen a fish so dead.”
“Good,” she said. “Flush it and let’s get on with our lives.”
Fish life is cheap and poorly mourned in our household.