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Avoiding Bad Choices: Saltwater Animals That Are Commonly Offered in the Trade That Shouldn't Be, and Suggested Alternates

Bob Fenner Damselfishes: Some are Good choices

"But it was offered for sale at a great fish store"! Alas, there are a mass of species that the hobbyist often encounters that have dismal survival records in captivity'¦ How can this be? Why would anyone sell organisms that historically don't live under the intended customers settings? The reasons here are simple and straightforward'¦ and just as easily understood, converted into action in avoidance, making better choices.

First: Definition of Bad, Good, Best:

Through the years I've seen numerous models for defining, describing to folks the likelihood that livestock will indeed stay live. Pablo Tepoot in his "S.E. Asian Companion Guide" to marine fishes of the tropical west Pacific used a range of five'¦ with his best at one end of a spectrum and "doomed" at the other. For my purposes, and that of our understanding here, I've whittled these categories down to a simple, well-fitting three: Ranking them from highest to lowest by historical mortality (deaths) these are:

The best organisms'¦ ones that more than half traditionally live for more than a month.

The middle ground: organisms whose individuals live for more than a week but more than half expire within about 30 days.

The worst group: where more than half die within a week of being kept in captivity.

Are you surprised at how negative these categories seem to be? What do I mean, are there species kept by hobbyists that don't live any longer than this? Ones that more than 50% die w/in a week!? Yes, there are folks who have kept even the more-to most difficult species that I'll mention here for years'¦ and yes, there are definitely means to aid your pursuit in being one of these'¦ But, I assure you, having "lived" the trade for forty some years, studied and written in it all this time, that there are indeed very poor choices that are made every day'¦ in collecting, wholesaling, retailing and consumer-buying of poorly suited species in our interest.

Some Grievous Examples: Fishes

Pinnatus Batfish'¦

Labroides/Cleaner Wrasses:

Moorish Idols


Some Grievous Examples: Invertebrates

Coldwater anemones, anemones period.

Goniopora, still the most important, still dying after all these years.

Gadzooks, Cukes! The time bomb which is "Australian Sea Apples"

Linckia Seastars'¦


Some Grievous Examples: Algae

Coldwater organisms


Why of Why Are These Offered?

So'¦ if they don't live worth a dang, why does the trade persist in offering these and other low-survival species to the public? The easiest, most serendipitous answer is likely obvious: "they sell". Really'¦ if no one bought them, the stores would pretty quickly drop carrying poor choices in livestock'¦ and drygoods! After all, they're in the business to make money, among other priorities.

Following on or rather ahead of this idea is the fact that suppliers (wholesalers, jobbers, collectors) offer these species'¦ once again, due to established and ongoing demand'¦ I like to call this cycle of idiotic attrition the "flounder effect" to inject a bit of needed comedy in an otherwise self-defeating tragic relationship. The "founder" effect here is borne of someone initially finding, devising capture, holding and shipping techniques for life they found beautiful, interesting behaviorally and abundant. But you say'¦ if it doesn't live'¦ Wait, there's more to this cycle. It turns out that the hobby churns and burns through more than 100% of its customer base a year'¦ and retailers and their staffs'¦ 100% in under two years'¦ Hence, the poor choice scenario repeats itself with new, relatively unawares customers on a perpetual basis. Oh, if only there was a way out of this nonsense! Oh, but there is'¦ you're holding it in your hands'¦ learning.

Now that you're a bit more aware of the situation, hopefully you'll make more of an effort to "investigate before you buy"'¦ There really is a HUGE body of useful, readily available information'¦ in books, magazines, hobbyist get-togethers (clubs, conferences), stores (yes), gurus you can meet through the last two, and'¦ the Net! The last takes a discerning mind (and thick hide at times), but can yield some very useful timely information (oh if only more LFS made computers and the Net available in their shops!).

A Conclusion:

Is there some grand conspiracy to offer hobbyists bad species, even bad specimens of good to better species, so that they'll die, cause them to "come back for more"? Assuredly not. We're not in a field like computer software where you can simply re-boot if something goes direly wrong with your livestock. I am not Jesus and neither are you. Once they're dead, we're not bringing them back.

Rather, the stores and folks who supply the chain of custody are doing what free markets do'¦ supplying a demand with a need'¦ sometimes w/ a missing modicum of ready knowledge.

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