Just keep swimming

Earle's late beta fish, Frankie.
Earle’s late beta fish, Frankie. (Photo: Colleen Earle)

As we all return to our favourite snow-covered city (or just continue to exist here as many of our fellow students do) we may find the lack of live things a bit depressing. For many of us the winter semester seems longer and harder than the first. After spending four months cramming our brains with new information and only having a week off we don’t feel ready to return and the bleak weather and coldness only seems to make it worse. There are, however, some nice ways that you can make your world a bit more lively and reduce stress at the same time. Fish.
I am currently working at Petsmart as a petcare associate. This means that I know more than anyone really needs to about fish, and have a general understanding of most of the other small pets we sell. Although living in residence does make it hard to own pets as they can’t have legs or jump (sorry African Dwarf Frog) you can get fish.
I’ve always owned fish and they are definitely my second favourite animal. Watching them swim has been proven to reduce stress and they are fairly easy to maintain. There are some basic facts to consider when thinking about getting a fish, which I’m sure many of you might.
Budget is always the chief concern. For budgets, I always recommend getting one of the kits which comes with the tank, filter, and hood lamps. For resident students you probably won’t want to go past 10 gallons because larger than that becomes harder to move later and 10 gallons fits nicely on most surfaces. That size will be the most expensive to outfit but you could also fit the most fish in it. Most of you probably won’t be interested in something that big, though.
Many people like getting bowls, commonly known by the misnomer “goldfish bowls.” No one should give you a gold fish to put in any tank under 20 gallons due to their growth patterns and the fact that they are just a very messy fish causing a lot of problems with ammonia which is toxic to fish. For anything under five gallons you’re going to be looking to get a beta, also known as “Chinese fighting fish,” though, personally, I don’t care for that name.
Betas are a type of tropical fish so they like a fairly warm environment (around 21 degrees) but can survive in cooler but will be much less active. They are a surface breather allowing them to be kept in smaller tanks and are probably the prettiest fish you can get without getting cichlids (minimum tank size that I would recommend for them would be 50 gallon. They are a fish for an experienced owner) or salt water fish. Betas are perfect for the first time fish owner and are relatively easy to set up.
Although they can survive in most tanks, I prefer 1.5-3 gallon tanks. They’re sleek and give the fish a fair about of room to swim around in. For this, you’re probably looking at around $50-60 for your start up. Kits ($20-30, less sometimes depending on the sales) typically include water conditioner and food, though they aren’t often expensive to buy separately. You will have to buy some gravel (range from $7-10 per one pound bag) and of course the fish ($6-17 depending of the variety of beta you choose). It would also be useful to get a gravel vacuum (about $10), a small bucket, a fish net (about $5), and a heater (about $20. It’s a good idea to have in the winter but asking as your house is warm it’s not completely necessary) though they aren’t completely necessary. You may also want to buy an ornament ($5-20) or some real  ($3-10) or plastic plants ($5) to give your tank some more pizazz.
After you get your beta home you’ll want to wash all of your newly purchased gear in hot water WITH NO SOAP. Rinse the gravel several times to make sure that it is clean (a bucket helps with this a lot, but an ice cream container works really well too), then set up your tank (don’t forget the water conditioner!) and let it run for a bit before introducing your fish. For betas it’s not as critical as for other fish, as they’re often housed separately, but try not to get the store water into your water (netting the fish over works really well; pour the fish a water through a net into a bucket and place the fish in your tank). And there you go! A new tank and a new friend for you who looks great on your Instagram.
You will have to do some weekly maintenance on your tank, wiping down the inside of the tank (we use the double sided sponges from Sobeys) replacing 25% of the water per week (this is where you would use your gravel vacuum, it works with suction to pull the water through the gravel, cleaning it, and depositing the water in your bucket), and rinsing in hot water all your ornaments. Replace the water with water conditioner in it. If you don’t do this your fish may get fin rot which is sad.
Fish are great. If you don’t like fish you could get a plant, but fish are cooler.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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