Research & Conservation

Buying your new fish?

Here’s a must-read!

Everyone is talking about it – the all new MCAST app aimed to increase awareness and education amongst those looking to add a pretty fish to their homes. The Big Fish Campaign App is now available to download on all Android and iOS devices and is an easy to use and vital tool to help make your life easier, and more importantly, your fish’s live easier too – I mean you wouldn’t like it if you grew too big for your own bed and bedroom!

The Big Fish Campaign is a big hit locally and students at MCAST deserve praise and credit for their hard work and research, helping us and our fish heavily. The issue is simple: You’re in a pet store, you spot a beautiful shining, glowing fish who gives you the wink. She’s yours, you think and tap the tank pointing her out to the pet store manager.

He gently picks her up using a green net and she flaps and splashes until she is placed into a clear plastic bag which is laid to rest on the shop counter. You barely listen to his clear instructions about how to treat her and when to feed her and next thing you know she is on your lap as your parents are driving you home. You’re happy, the fish is happy – hurray! It’s a win win situation…

… and that’s exactly how it should remain for the first few months, but owners of new fish quickly bump into a massive problem: The fish keeps growing, and then grows some more. Here at the Malta National Aquarium we have the luxury of having huge tanks, and I mean really huge tanks, you should come check them out, but sadly these tanks won’t fit in your bedroom, and soon enough your fish won’t fit in her tank. What do you do next? You try to give her to a friend, but their tank isn’t big enough – so your next stop: Us of course.

When it comes to big fish, the theory is simple: Big fish need big homes so we would like to encourage you to pick a fish that fits your home and lifestyle, sounds familiar, dog owners? The Big Fish Guide and App aims to sort out any confusion you might have when it comes to taking your little Nemo home… and of course in this case size matters.

Thankfully most of our trusted store keepers are well informed and will guide you into making the right decisions. It is important to listen to every word they say, as they strive to protect their fish. They also respect import laws to ensure what we get locally is both ideal and easy to keep. Sadly, we have seen many cases of seeing your fish end up at Chadwick lakes or the fountain in the local park.

The consequences of making the wrong selection can sadly be grave, and it starts out with stress: both on you and the fish – I know what you’re thinking, these fish pay no bills, have no jobs so no no stress… but the total opposite is true. Fish do stress out and the signs are easy to read.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Gasping for oxygen, which is a common consequence of dirty water
  • Strange swimming methods
  • Discoloration
  • Disease

We’ve even seen cases of fish leaping out of their tanks due to their massive size and while that might make a viral video it is not cool. At all.

One quick guide, straight from the horse’s mouth of The Big Fish Campaign:

Handy hints for fish keepers:

  • Think about what kind of things will the fish need – food, tank size and system
  • Think about how much time you will have to look after the fish
  • Think about your budget as buying a fish is a long term commitment
  • Think about quarantine facilities for sick fish
  • Remember that your tank system will need to mature before you add the fish
  • Try to buy fish that have been bred in captivity
  • Always quarantine your fish before adding them to the tank

It’s an invasion!

We are blessed to have over 33,000 different species of fish roaming around in our seas, lakes, rivers and oceans. That is an incredible amount, and each one is so unique and different it gets more exciting the more we look at them…

But have you ever wondered what happens if say one species decides to move into another territory, one which they have never lived in before? This is not a rare phenomenon, but at times it can be a worrying one, and we do see it happening here in our Maltese shores.

Invasive species can threaten the whole balance of an active ecosystem, and this happens as other fish living there will not have the power to deal with them. The invaders quickly become the apex predator of the area… meaning no one else eats them. This means that once they move in, they have a whole menu of food to choose from, can roam freely and critically mate. The invasions happen so quick it is often hard for scientists to react in time and sadly it does mean we can miss out on certain species which would have thrived in their absence.

Despite their label, invasive species do not have to seem so brutal. A fine example of a beautiful fish seen colonising the Mediterranean is the Red Lion Fish, with its long spines used for protection. This creature made its easy to the warm basin by swimming up through the red sea, entering via the man made Suez Canal. As channels are created, fish can use them as pathways to new homes, as this species successfully managed. In the ocean, they are preyed upon by lots of different species, but here it rules the roost as its spines are enough to deter many of the smaller fish it encounters. The result is a population boom and one species that needs to be aware of their existence is us. Humans can get hurt via their large sharp toxic spines and stepping on them can be very painful.

A sting as menacing as it looks. Warning: Do not touch!

One other less threatening invasive species spotted in our shores is the appealing azure damselfish, which is aptly named, given its impressive blue tone. Contrasting the blue is a yellow sash which brightly illuminates its body. These species are more commonly found in the Indian Ocean, but to escape from its own predators there, has migrated to our safer, warmer shores.