Relax! Have Fun! It’s a Hobby!

saltwater aquarium fish and coralsI realize that many of us take our aquarium keeping very seriously, but we have to put it in context and remember that it is just a hobby. A hobby, by definition, is something that gives us pleasure, not something that is necessarily important (except, of course, to us and our fish and corals).

Actually, they are not even our fish and corals. Most are wild creatures that we decided to “help” by rescuing them from the sea, housing them in fake water, feeding them foods that they never saw in nature, and illuminating them artificially while providing a vastly different water movement system and forcing them to live with creatures from the other side of the planet whom they’ve never met.

Between the aquarium and the deep blue sea

Besides that, we love what we do and some of us are very good at it indeed. Many of the fish that we “rescue” actually live longer in our care than they would in the sea. If given a choice, I am not sure whether the fish would want to stay in the sea or come and live with us, given that some of us watch reality TV in full view of our tanks. Who knows whether fish even like reality TV? I mean “Dancing with the Stars” shouldn’t excite fish much, as they don’t have legs. I would assume the National Geographic Channel would be a better choice. Also, some people identify as liberal or conservative, but what about fish? I am not sure how fish would vote. Which party is for which fish?

In contrast to their wild counterparts, fish in our care are prone to the same afflictions that we are due to lack of exercise. My dad, many years ago, was a seafood peddler, and every day he walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, pushing a very heavy cart full of fresh fish, crustaceans, and ice. I just walk over to the fridge and grab a shrimp cocktail. Long before that, our great, great, great, great, etc. grandfathers had to run down game if they wanted to eat. They were in great shape. However, now we can drive our 300-horsepower, 3,000-pound cars three blocks over to McDonalds and drive away with a small part of a cow that someone else caught and made into chopped meat.

Reef aquarium corals

Fish in the sea have a hard time finding food and often have to swim after it and then fight with it while simultaneously fending off other would-be predators that either want to steal their meal or eat them. This happens to wild fish at almost every meal, but in our tanks, they kind of float there, waiting for someone to squirt some food in their face at about the same time every day. That’s how they feed supermodels; they just spray some chicken soup into their face once or twice a day.

Fish, like us, have muscles, and although I am not a fish strength trainer, I assume their muscles atrophy just as ours do if they aren’t used. I think if we released our fish into the sea (please don’t!), they wouldn’t make it ten minutes, as all the rest of the fish (after making fun of them for being in such terrible shape) would be flying past them from all angles to catch prey.

No contest

Many of us lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish by yearning for the best tank, in which everything grows and spawns, corals grow up the walls, and we can have the honor of Tank of the Month or Post of the Month or just Something, Anything of the Month. But this thought is completely wrong. This is not a competition, and there is no end game. I know because I have been doing this for over 60 years and I am still not done. We try desperately to get to the point where we’ve won, where everything is perfect, but if we think like that, we are sure to be disappointed.

Aquarium keeping is like sailing. When you go on a sailboat, you don’t usually even have a destination. It’s the act of sailing that is the fun. If we actually get anywhere, that is great, but then if we needed to be somewhere, would we really jump into a very expensive sailboat that goes maybe four miles per hour in a good wind and splashes us every five minutes? I mean really.

It’s called “aquarium keeping,” not “aquarium finishing” because we will never be finished. It is the ride, the act of keeping these colorful and expensive little creatures alive that is the thrill. And keeping them alive is only part of the fun. Changing water, cleaning glass, testing, dosing, re-aquascaping and writing about our experiences are all part of the fun, too. Even when something dies—yes, even when something dies—we can find fulfillment in figuring out what happened. If nothing ever died, we would call it stamp collecting. Now that’s a thrill.

Challenges are part of the fun

So when cyanobacteria, hair algae, flatworms, ich, or any number of other problems occur, be happy for the experience and don’t think of it as a disaster. A tornado is a disaster, an earthquake is a disaster, a supermodel gaining a pound is a disaster, but something happening in a fish tank is not a disaster. It’s just part of this wonderful hobby, a hobby that makes us happy.

I’ve enjoyed this fantastic hobby every day of my long life, and I will keep doing it until they put me in a nursing home. It has helped me through hard mental times and just boring times. Sometimes I spend days on end “working” on the tank, and sometimes weeks go by where I barely have time to feed the fish. I have had large die offs and constant spawning. But I’ve savored all those times and have never been disappointed. You can put whatever you want into this hobby, and I’ve loved every minute of it!

Photo credit: Paul Baldassano

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About Paul Baldassano

Paul Baldassano has been in the hobby since the 50s and holds two aquarium-related patents. His current reef aquarium was set up in 1971. He is also an avid SCUBA diver and Vietnam veteran.

Comments

  1. Jeff Kurtz says:

    Paul, I did a little research, and it turns out fish are Libertarians. Who knew?

  2. Paul Baldassano says:

    Hermits are usually Isolationists.

  3. I call for a re-count. There was a hanging chad.

    • "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich says:

      We need to give that Chad guy a loitering citation, Al, he’s always just hanging around.

  4. Captain Rich says:

    Do Sea Horses live on the Pond- A- Rosa and who rides them?
    Do Nudi-Branchs go without clothes?
    Do Angel Fish come from Heaven?
    Do Lion Fish roar?
    Do Pilot Whales and Pilot Fish use GPS?
    Do Sea Robins lay blue eggs?
    Did Star Fish fall from space?

    These are all questions to ponder while you are sitting there admiring your tank…

  5. Paul Baldassano says:

    I really don’t know Capt. Rich as I am trying to put out my Firefish

    • "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich says:

      If that’s considered a [fish] oil fire, you might try smothering with a wet cloth…

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