Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mourning the passing of an old friend

One of our oldest (5 years) freshwater fish passed away this Thursday. He was our favorite. Not only was he beautiful but he was a character.

He didn't have an official name but he has an amazing story. We affectionately called him Blue or "the blind guy". He was an electric blue African cichlid and one of the very first fish Diego and I bought together. The story starts when Diego and I moved in together in May 2003. I already had 3 fish tanks but we wanted one of our we started together (so cute!). So we started a "colony" of African cichlids in a 30 gal tank. He was the most beautiful and had a quiet rule over the others. Some males would arise and challenge his dominance but never did his rule falter. Fish came and went but he remained a dominant fixture of our colony. He fathered many young, which he and the other promptly ate when the mother spewed them from her protective hold in her mouth.

Then in September 2003, Hurricane Juan hit and devastated Halifax. We were without power for 9 days. Every day Diego and I would come home and warm up water on the BBQ to keep all our fish at a balmy 12 degrees C. This is definitely at the lower limit of most aquarium fishes thresholds, they are tropical and prefer something around 24 degrees C! We lost 25% of our fish. Luckily we did not have any marine tanks, they would not have survived! All of our older fish died, except the young ones in the colony, including Blue. The colony was moved up into a 75 gal and new mates were added.

Then one day we noticed that Blue had swollen eyes, was beat up and cowering in a corner. He had an eye infection called "pop" we moved him into a hospital tank and treated him. A day after his return to the colony, he was again beat up and cowering in a corner. After feeding the colony and watching Blue's attempts to eat we realized that he was BLIND!!! We immediately transferred him to a home with less aggressive friends, he moved in with our angelfish. Henceforth he was known as the blind guy to most (or Blue to us).

I had to hand feed him and eventually he learned to detect and catch pellets that floated on the surface. He also had to memorize his surroundings. For the first couple of weeks he ran into everything! Eventually, he knew where every piece of driftwood was and he could stop on a dime before running into the glass. He could even give chase to the angels and give them little love nips on the fins!

As if that wasn't enough, when we went away one Christmas our furnace stopped working and when our house sitter came back from a week at his folks the inside temperature was no more than 4 degrees C and he found an apartment full of dying fish...poor guy! We lost 70% of our freshwater fish that time and all of Blue's tank-mates perished. That was 2 years ago. He died peacefully on Thursday morning.

I watched him grow from a juvenile with no colours into a magnificent male. I saw him suffer through moments of cold, pain and confusion. He overcame it all and persevered. His strength and sheer will to live inspired me and others. Many of my friends to whom I tell his story never thought a fish could learn or had memory and most of them did not believe me until they met him... The complexity of fishes never ceases to amaze me. He will be missed.


  1. Oh, I'm sorry he's gone. He was definitely well loved! It was a pleasure to meet him.

  2. What a beautiful tribute! He definitely sounds like he was a character - I'm sorry he's gone.

  3. I loved the whole story of Blue; I can see why you miss him.

  4. I'm sorry!! Lovely story he has!