Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Death by ignorance: Goldfish are creatures, not party favors

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

GRAPHIC by Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

My opinion of Student Events has never been particularly high, but it was not until last Friday that I felt true ire towards them. Several of my friends complain about the organization’s waste of students’ money, but I will admit that I generally can’t be bothered to complain about something like that. However, I will most certainly complain now, as Student Events has demonstrated a shockingly irresponsible disregard for life.

Last Friday, Nov. 12, Student Events held a party in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium as part of its Louis Louis 2010 event series—Caribbean Excursion, they called it. At the time, I paid no attention and the event came and went without my notice. It was not until a few days later, when I began to see people posting pictures on Facebook of comet goldfish in small plastic containers, that I discovered that Student Events was giving out living creatures as a grim and gimmicky finale to their Caribbean Excursion event. In tandem with a variety of rather uninteresting activities, the Facebook page for the event encourages people to “Best of all, design a mini fish tank for your new pet, a ‘tropical’ goldfish.”

My outrage is manifold. No living creature should be given away as a gimmick for an event. To do so is carnivalesque and bothers me deeply. The fruit of my investigation into the event was my discovery that students who wanted a goldfish were given a small plastic tank, the goldfish itself and a small amount of food. Absent from this meager care package were methods for aeration and filtration, as well as any information regarding the care of “your new pet ‘tropical’ goldfish.”

Where Student Events failed, allow me to educate. If you were a recipient of one of Student Event’s goldfish, I assume that the poor thing has already died or will do so shortly. You were set up for failure; the goldfish, for almost-certain death. Foremost, you were given no method for filtration, which is undeniably the most important component in successful aquaculture.

Goldfish are notoriously messy fish—they produce far more waste than other fish of similar size due to their deep bodies and voracious appetites. This in turn leads to a high volume of both urine and feces, which enter the water and break down to release ammonia. Without filtration, ammonia burns away the skin of a fish and destroys the gills, making effective oxygen exchange impossible. Lethargy and clamped fins are other signs of ammonia poisoning, along with a loss of appetite. Left untreated, the fish begins to hemorrhage internally and externally, and dies. In fish tanks with proper filtration, not only is solid waste removed from the water, but harmful ammonia is also broken down into the still toxic but less lethal nitrite. This is accomplished by a colony of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria, which feed off of ammonia-rich fish waste and whose bi-product is a less harmful chemical. Nitrite is then further broken down into nitrate, which, even in moderately-high concentration, is harmless to fish. These steps are collectively known as the Nitrogen Cycle, and understanding it is literally vital for any fish in your care. Additionally, filtration has the added benefit of aerating the water, as the return stream breaks the surface tension and allows for oxygen to exchange between our atmospheric air and that in the water. Even nitrate will eventually build up to intolerable levels, however, necessitating a water change. Changing tank water requires the use of water conditioner to remove harmful chlorine and chloramines, but if Student Events gave no instructions to the immediate care of your goldfish, it is a given that they would lack the foresight to address maintenance later on.

Student Events made no effort to provide filtration systems along with their giveaway. To do so would have cost more than the 12 cents already invested in each life. However, that they also made no effort to inform people of what would be required to properly care for a goldfish is direly telling; the well-being of the fish was an afterthought—the advertised activity was the decorating of the glorified cups that were to be these fishes’ tombs.

After seeing what Student Events deemed, in gross ignorance, to be adequate housing for a goldfish, I burned with a resolve that has led me to write this article. The goldfish, species Carassius auratus, is neither a small nor a short-lived animal. The popular misconception that goldfish are short-lived pets, suitable for life in a bowl, is a tragically self-fulfilling prophecy. Goldfish that are forced to live in bowls (or plastic cups, as the case may be) often do indeed die a few days later. This is not, however, a testament to their presumed ephemerality. Rather, the fish die because they are crammed into inadequately small spaces, where ammonia levels reach lethal levels within a few days. If given room to grow and live to its full potential, a goldfish easily grows to a foot in length, and can very easily live to be 30 or even 40 years old. Your eyes do not deceive you—goldfish are remarkably long-lived, and I find it deeply sad that countless goldfish are given as decidedly perishable gifts all the time. Often, these giveaways take place at carnivals, with a target audience of children and the otherwise well-meaning but ignorant. When I discovered that Brandeis had sanctioned what was to be certain death by virtue of ignorance, I was livid.

The deep disregard for life that took place on Nov. 12, which was, by tragic coincidence, Kindness Day, is unbecoming of Brandeis, and I would like Student Events to acknowledge its irresponsibility. Living creatures are not to be treated as prizes, but even that sentiment gives too much credit to Student Events. No research was done, no information gathered.

There was no appreciation for life; I feel as though the goldfish were thrown in as an inexpensive gimmick that had no relevance to the tropical island theme of the event aside from the rather effortless connection that goldfish live in water. Goldfish, by the way, are not tropical and would certainly never be found in oceans—they are distinctly cold-water fish that would die in warm or saline waters. While it may seem a petty detail by itself, it is yet another hallmark of the sheer disregard Student Events gave to these doomed creatures. Goldfish are not novelties to be given and thrown away without care, and I hope that others feel a similar indignation regarding this careless event.