A fish story

While contemplating topics for this week’s column, I considered our President’s abysmally belated response to the ISIS threat.

I considered the renewed debate over climate change.

I considered our governor’s increasing wanderlust, which appears to be in direct correlation to his decreasing waistline.

I considered the $17.9 trillion national debt.

And then I decided: Enough with the serious stuff. This week’s column will be about goldfish.

Initially, the idea stemmed from a news item about an Australian goldfish named George whose owner paid for brain surgery on the aquatic pet when it was diagnosed with a tumor.

Yes, brain surgery.

The veterinarian who performed the 45-minute operation in Melbourne noted: “George had a quite large tumor . . . and it was beginning to affect his quality of life.”

The BBC reported that the 10-year-old fish was sedated during the surgery and afterwards was given antibiotics and painkillers. The vet said that all went well and the next day George “was up and swimming around.”

At first, I was going to make mock of all this. However, according to the BBC, “Experts say the $200 procedure may have bought George another 20 years of life.”

What? Goldfish can live to be 30? Mine lived an average of 30 days. I’d come home from school to find them belly-up in the bowl, or they’d commit suicide by leaping out of the water when no one was around to rescue them. I began to wonder if Woolworth’s was selling depressed fish.

Now I wonder if I had made them depressed. They always had clean water and sufficient food, but their bowl was small and lacked accoutrements, such as one of those tiny castles. They were probably bored to tears.

Researching goldfish for this column, I have learned many things, including that, in some places, goldfish bowls (the same kind I had) have been banned “on animal cruelty grounds.” Because the fish have both high oxygen needs and a high waste output, “such bowls are no longer considered appropriate housing.”

From Wikipedia, I also learned the following:

• Goldfish “have a memory- span of at least three months and can distinguish different shapes, colors and sounds.”

• Goldfish are gregarious and can respond to their reflection in a mirror. • Their behavior can be conditioned by their owners.

• They can distinguish between individual humans. When their owners approach, some may “react favorably (swimming to the front of the glass, swimming rapidly around the tank, or going to the surface, mouthing for food).” When strangers approach, they may hide.

• Goldfish that have “constant visual contact with humans stop considering them to be a threat. After a time, it becomes possible to hand-feed a goldfish without it shying away.”

• By using positive reinforcement, goldfish can be trained to perform tricks.

(Tricks? What tricks? Playing dead? Uh-oh.)

And:

• “Very rarely does a goldfish harm another goldfish.” (Which makes them superior to some humans, especially certain NFL players.)

I found no reference to 30-year lives. However, Wikipedia says “the lifespan of goldfish in captivity can extend beyond 10 years.”

Which is nine years and 11 months longer than mine lived.

I realize now that they really were depressed. I treated my goldfish as a form of aquatic decor, and I could have been teaching them tricks. They were starved for attention, not food. And they were confined in a bowl. They had no quality of life. I should write a song: “My Goldfish Has the Blues.” I cod call it sole music. For either a bass or an Irish tuna.

(Stop groaning. At least I didn’t say I wrote this just for the halibut.)

– Karen Zautyk 

The Observer Staff