Apr 122014
 
The following article from Practical Fishkeeping gives a UK perspective about the hobby, but all of the issues discussed are relevant to fishkeeping hobbyists here in Australia.

Original story by Nathan Hill at Practical Fishkeeping

A handful of recent events have prompted Nathan Hill to put finger to keyboard and share some of his biggest fears of what could put an end to the hobby we all love…
Photo: Practical fishkeeping

Photo: Practical fishkeeping

Something I’ve long admired about this hobby is its tenacity. It has, over the years, been subject to all sorts of accusations, including being geeky or uncool, being unnecessarily expensive (early marine keepers, anyone?) and even being environmentally unsound.

Despite this the hobby and the supporting trade prevails, and even in the face of some fluctuating trends: not least of all that same, damning migration to online purchasing that can wither and drain bricks-and-mortar premises. More than just prevailing, in some cases it actively stands proud, is able to boast expansion, recruitment, and economic growth. Even during this ongoing global economic wobble, fishkeeping is burgeoning. Wow.

That’s not to say that we are not vulnerable, susceptible even, to factors that could pull the metaphoric rug from under our feet.

I’m often engaged in conversation with people across a breadth of different fields: anglers, wholesalers, retailers, hobbyists, environmental scientists, and so on. Talking across such a diverse spectrum, I pick up on a lot of different concerns that reside, often unwittingly so, at the backs of peoples’ minds. After sitting and brooding on these for way too long, I’d like to share my biggest fears of what could, at any time, befall our hobby and end fishkeeping.

Disease

Pathogens capable of inciting disease pandemics are a major global worry. Just look at human concerns about antibiotic abuse and the occurrence of MRSA. Look at recent worries about Ebola outbreaks. Even look at the return of diseases that could easily be prevented in humans, were people not so blinkered and scientifically ill informed about vaccines. Disease pandemics are a major fear.

If you’re a newcomer to the hobby, then whatever you think you know about fish farming – forget it. If you have images of clinical facilities where each and every fish is treated like a newborn infant, then it’s back to the drawing board time. Farms are businesses, plain and simple. The goal is to get young fish out of adults as eggs, to hatch them, and to get them up to saleable juveniles as soon as possible, and that means that pretty much anything is on the cards to get them there. Antibiotics are used where necessary (and maybe even where not), and not just the kinds of antibiotics that you or I might have access to via a vet. Different countries have different laws about what can and can’t be used, and in some it’s a bit of a medicine free for all.

Hopefully we all know the dangers of antibiotic abuse, but in case anyone is unsure, here’s a brief recap:

Antibiotics kill things indiscriminately (the very word ‘antibiotic’ literally translates as ‘against life’). The idea is that they kill bacteria at a lower dose rate than which they kill the host. So if a fish gets ill, you can poison everything in the tank with antibiotics, and the pathogens making the fish ill should die before the fish does, and then you can stop the antibiotics.

However, if you leave a few bacteria behind, they start to get immune, and can build tolerance to the antibiotic. So, the next outbreak of bacteria will be a bit ‘harder’ to control than the first lot. Repeat the process, leave a few bacteria behind, and they get harder to kill again, until eventually you end up with pathogens that are so resistant to antibiotics that you’d need to use a dose rate so high that you’d kill the host before the pathogen.

That’s the abridged version, anyway.

The problem of course is that unregulated use of antibiotics over in the farming nations could quite feasibly create a strain of bacteria that our own antibiotics have no effect against. With diseased fish coming in, and no ability to cure them, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

But it’s not just bacteria.

There are a few pathogens on the horizon that are cause for concern at this time. In coldwater fish, there are the dreaded illnesses of KHV (Koi herpes virus) and SVC (Spring viraemia of Carp), both of which have the potential to cause massive problems to Cyprinids. Not so long ago, massive wipeouts from the former blighted farms across the world, causing losses on unmentionable scales in both ornamental and food fish culture. Here in the UK, some retailers faced the furious backlash from introducing the disease to consumer’s ponds. One was even driven to bankruptcy over it.

In the tropical world, I am very twitchy about Tetrahymena pyriformis, otherwise known as Guppy disease (though this is unfair as many fish are susceptible). This disease can cause massive mortality at breakneck speeds, especially in farm, wholesale and retail environments. I’m not the only one worried about this particular pathogen, either.

What is so very infuriating is the ‘wait and see’ attitude of some traders. This is not a disease to ignore, and to do so is not just at your own peril, but that of the entire industry.

Running costs

You will recall recently that Jack Heathcote had to close down his massive aquarium because of exorbitant running costs. Agreed, his tank was huge: an absolute electricity guzzling swimming pool of a thing. But the point is, it used to be well within his outgoings to operate. Prices are creeping, across the board, and more and more of us are noticing.

Compulsory water metering, if introduced across the UK, will spell death for many users of RO water. Given that tapwater isn’t going to get better any time soon, marine keepers in particular will have the choice of either paying out for a safe supply, reverting the hardiest, nitrate tolerant specimens there are, or jacking the hobby in.

Electricity might start to play on the minds of the fiscally conscious, too. As we’re encouraged to get our own monitors in the home to calculate what’s consuming what, I suspect that many will be alarmed at just how much a decent sized tank can cost to run. A handful of frantically spinning pumps, a couple of hundred watts of lighting, and a wheezing 300W heater or two all add up to become a financial burden, and given the balance of sacrificing the tank to the cause of improved monetary household harmony, I’ll wager that some might start to seriously consider a less power-hungry hobby.

Importation costs

The tropical fish we get in the UK tend not to come from within the British shores. Many will be far eastern, along with some European, American and African contributions. Wherever they’re coming from, they’re coming via planes. A continuous squadron of winged beasts bring us boxes of fish like a hovering conveyer belt, and we’ve become very reliant upon it.

Plane freight has been insidiously creeping upwards (no pun intened) for as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s the freight that frequently constitutes the majority cost of the livestock we buy. The trade might hate me for saying it, but a farmed guppy can be bought from Singapore or Malaysia for pennies. It’s only once it’s circumnavigated the globe, whizzing from one Hemisphere to the other that it has racked up a lot of airmiles, and those airmiles all add up to extra expenditure that needs to be reclaimed.

Now this isn’t the end of the earth for fish where you can cram a few hundred into a box for transit. In that case the cost is distributed about: each and every fish carries its own little fragment of expense, to be added to a mark up. But what of larger specimen fishes? What of the larger wild catfish that come one to a box? I suspect that this aspect of the hobby is fast becoming vulnerable.

Retailers, to their credit, strive to keep retail prices down on fish. You only have to look at the glacial creep of the value of staples like Neon tetra to realise that they’re becoming less and less profitable for the trader, though the competition and the market is fierce. These fish were about £1 each ten years back, and they’re still about £1 each now. Retailers know that they can’t crack the prices of many of these staples up without dissociating themselves like pariahs from the hobby, so they suffer in silence.

Time could force a trader’s hand and we could see incremental price hikes. The big concern is where the cut off point is for the hobbyist. £3 for a Neon? £25 for a Pictus catfish? African cichlids starting at £30?

Let’s rule nothing out, because a lot of factors are at play with pricing.

Release of fish into the UK

I have spent the last few weeks scathing at the irresponsible actions of a minority of those in the industry.

I’m not sure many of us realise just what kind of scrutiny we are under as a hobby. Whether we like it or not, we have enemies, and powerful ones at that, who see what we do as a threat. Many of our opposition and detractors are those in the angling community, who can have an unbalanced and solely derogatory view of us, and the perceived threat we could pose to their own industry.

We as aquarists maintain what amount to collections of alien species in our ponds and tanks. Sterlets are far from indigenous, nor are the various gobies, catfish, tetra and so on that we keep.

This taps back in to what I mentioned earlier, vis. disease of fish. Any one of us, anywhere in the world could, in theory, be sat on the equivalent of case zero. We already know that domestic shrimps can be carriers of White tail disease, an illness currently ravaging farms of commercial food shrimp. We don’t know if there’s any risk of native crayfish picking up this disease, and I don’t want to find out the hard way, but all it takes is for some bright spark to consider putting his or her shrimps in a pond at the height of summer, to then be promptly flooded so that the shrimps get into a local river and meet a crayfish. The outcome of that encounter isn’t hard to envisage.

Is that even feasible? Well, yes. Loads of aquarists were affected by this year’s flooding, and I’m open mouthed and speechless that some people are even trying to highlight to the national tabloids that their fish escaped. Already that’s opened a forum on whether those at risk of flooding are allowed to keep the fish that they do. But the last thing we want to be doing now is drawing excess attention to it.

If ecosystems in certain rivers or lakes are impacted by fish like sterlets, who do you think will take the blame? And what then, the ramifications for our trade? Suffice to say, if someone’s escapees blight the native fish of a county, the angling lobbyists and national newspapers will demonise us to the extent that we won’t be able to walk down the roads without being spat on.

Controls are in place to stop just this kind of thing from happening. Legislation already incorporates rules and laws about where non-natives may and may not be put. Dangerously invasive fish are denied entry to the country through the implementation of the Import of Live Fish Act.

Enter the imbecile. The imbecile is someone who, upon going against all of the advice of his retailer, decides to buy a gaggle of potentially invasive, non-natives that promptly outgrow his pond. The imbecile then takes the fish, in his desire to be rid, and upends them into a local waterway.

I’m not saying that any of us should sit back and await this to happen. Rather, we should be aware of such people, and be thoroughly prepared to dob them in at the first hint of trouble. Call me a snitch for that if you like, but I’m more interested in the welfare of UK waterways than I am in some puerile, school playground code of honour.

CEFAS would be a good port of call when reporting imbeciles like the one mentioned above. Even the local constabulary, when made aware that someone is intending to release non-natives into British waterways, will be obligated to do something. The release of non-natives is an illegal act, and we should all be guarded against it.

Anti-hobbyists would seize any opportunity to extirpate our industry, and it is essential that we don’t give them an easy opening to do so.

Environment degradation

This one isn’t something that we have too much say over, but where we do, we should.

Here’s a surprise for you. Some of the fish we currently keep are extinct in the wild. Red tailed sharks, for example, no longer have a native range. It was destroyed by damming, cities, irrigation and farming. Liquorice gouramis are going the same way, as their habitat is eaten up by Palm plantations. Certain African cichlids have vanished into the maws of Nile perch.

Degradation leads to extinction, and extinction means no new bloodlines. Eventually, that means inbreeding and variation. Now that’s fine if you fancy stores choc-full of Flowerhorns and the blandest of the bland in farmed staples, but with nothing interesting to offer, the trade might will be on its knees. It’ll certainly have no substance if there aren’t any decent fish left.

Legislation

A few paragraphs above, where I lamented the release of non-natives, I drew attention to the dangers of a few rogue aquarists jeopardising our hobby on a national scale.

Worse still is that our comrades in mainland Europe could just as easily spoil things for us by releasing fish there, too. Recall the recent debacle of the Golden apple snail. We Brits did nothing wrong on our own turf, but it transpires that a snail population was released and decided to make merry in the waters of Spain. After some investigation it was argued that the snails could just as easily invade and establish into certain water of East Anglia. Just like that, legislation was drafted and the snails banned from importation and movement between EU countries.

I choke every time I read about the likes of Pacu being found in Parisian rivers, or Cabomba strangling Dutch waterways. Each of these is the produce of an irresponsible aquarist out there somewhere, and all are potential trade cripplers for the whole continent.

It’s bad enough knowing that a slip up on our own shores could warrant investigation, but to know it’s possibly wrested from our hands altogether is outright harrowing. The idea that someone could upset the Euro trade of Callichthyds by being foolish enough to put Scleromystax into Italian rivers is a troubling one. Rhinogobius found in Austrian ponds could be the end of those little cuties for all of us, and so on.

Given how high the powers of Europe go, I’m not even sure we’d have the grounding or stamina to successfully fight our corner.

Autonomy is required, though how to gain it isn’t exactly clear. It’s certainly one for the regulatory bodies to ascertain, because I’m sure that like me, you don’t want to be held accountable for problems you were never part of.

Ethics

We’re all familiar with the idea of culture shock, and cross-generation differences. With each new generation the nation produces, the paradigm of attitudes and opinions alters ever so slightly.

It happens across so many different trains of thought that I’m almost stuck for choice, so examples are rife. Let’s start with obvious points like racism and sexism. If we go back 100 years, prevalent attitudes to females and foreign ethnicities were radically different to what they are today. That’s not to say that everybody was a xenophobic misogynist, but compared to today’s standard, the percentile of people who would have happily passed off derogatory comments about either was considerably higher than it is now.

Opinions and attitudes are often languidly slow to change, but change they do. The same applies to the world of animal ethics, too. Fifty years ago, the idea that someone might be tried for abusing a pig on a farm would have been near laughable. Flash forward to 2014, and the same person could expect to be near lynched, banned from working with animals, and possibly even subject to custodial sentence.

We’re seeing gradual encroachment into pet keeping, if you keep eyes peeled. How frequently do you now see cage birds on sale? Many retailers have abandoned them, and those that haven’t yet are often under pressure to do so. Again, just fifty years back a teenager wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at his or her mother keeping a canary in a cage. In the modern day, you’ll find increasing numbers of youngsters who would brand the act as cruel. It’s a gradual process.

We’ve already witnessed campaigns to get some fish out of aquatic stores. Giants like Pacu are increasingly considered ethically unsound, with the long term welfare consideration for the fish itself now ranking much higher than the novelty of keeping one for a while.

Retailers are becoming more switched on and savvy in their vetting of potential keepers. Ethics rank higher than pound signs in some stores, who will politely refuse a sale if they think the fish in question will not have its requirements yet. People care.

None of this is to say that we’re on a slippery slope that will eventually lead to a total rejection of fishkeeping by some future generation. We can, after all, dig our heels in before it gets runaway, and this is something that we should perhaps guard against. Showing ourselves in a positive light is essential, and perhaps more essential than ever if we’re to win over the minds of tomorrow’s keeper. Young people will be the future of the hobby, and if they reach hobby age having been influenced in such a way they think the trade negative, then it’s pretty much game over. No new fishkeepers, no continued hobby.

Zoonotic illness (Disease part two…)

I should probably include the caveat ‘once grabbed by the mainstream media’ for the above subheading.

Zoonotic illness alone is unlikely to wipe out fishkeeping, in the same way that recent TB cases acquired from cats won’t be leading to a global purge on felines any time soon.

But a devastating sob story pandering to our worst fears (I needn’t say which tabloids I brand as capable of this) and highlighting the loss of a hand or foot through some badly diagnosed, ill treated and runaway case of fish TB could quite easily inflict a wound from which we’ll never quite recover

The worst situation that could befall us would be a combination of tragic events. Someone young and immunocomprimised for whatever reason, picking up a particularly nasty strain of Leptospirosis, or something similar and dying would be a disaster in every way, not least of all for the individual concerned.

We know that hygiene is essential when working with tanks. We understand that getting unprotected hands with cuts in aquaria is to invite disaster, and we can eradicate this risk at source, just by being both aware of the hazards, and being aware of how to safeguard against them.

Just bear in mind that if you’re taking risks with your health for the sake of your hobby, then you’re not just putting your own neck on the line. If it all goes very, very wrong and you end up in a bad way, then you’re potentially messing it up for the rest of us.

Likelihood?

I’m upset that most of the factors above are in many ways beyond the remit of the day-to-day aquarist. Responsible buying can help to reduce the chance of disease and zoonosis, and voting with our wallets can promote retailers to purchase better quality and responsibly sourced stock.

Expenses are beyond our control, bar lobbying MPs and embracing efficiency where we can. Championing low running cost technology over higher wattage ‘budget’ alternatives will help such lines to grow, in turn safeguarding us in the longer run.

What is definitely in our grasp, and what I consider the biggest danger to us all, is not releasing fish in the UK. I cannot reiterate enough just how damning it would be for us to have subtropical species that are only sourced through our hobby turning up in native ponds and rivers.

I’ve harped on about it numerous times, but I’m not going to miss another opportunity to do the same. If you release your fish in to the wild, or are considering doing so, then shame upon you. I will have no truck with anyone who wants to jeopardise the hobby for all of us like that, and who also shows abject disregard for the wellbeing of their livestock.

Keep fish in their tanks where they are not a risk, and I beseech each and every one of you: if you know someone who’s planning to release, call the authorities and make them act on it. It’s your hobby at stake too.

Mar 142014
 

QFASThe Queensland Federation of Aquarium Societies (QFAS) is holding another combined clubs super auction this Saturday!

The combined clubs auctions are some of the biggest events on the aquarium hobby calendar for the greater Brisbane area. At QFAS Super Auction you can expect to see a lot of speciality fish, plants, aquarium furnishings, and lots of other hobby related odds and ends – much of which you’re not likely to find in a pet shop. Many club members maintain lineages that aren’t available commercially and/or regularly produce champion fish for our local shows, and bring their surplus along to the auction. It’s a great social outing and if you’re new to the hobby, a great opportunity to seek out some advice, with more fishkeepers in one place than you’d hope to see anywhere else. There’s bound to be plenty of bargains. As well as independent hobbyists there’ll be plenty of members from:

  • Betta Australis;
  • Queensland Aquarium Hobbyists;
  • the Queensland Cichlid Group; 
  • the Gold Coast Aquarium Society; and of course
  • ANGFA Qld.

There’ll be plants, live foods, Australian & PNG natives, Africans, Americans, Bettas, livebearers, catfish, community tropicals and who knows what else… And it’s all staffed by volunteers, so all of the funds raised through commissions and the canteen go directly towards supporting the clubs that support the hobby.

If you are Selling enter via Kate Street where the signs for Indooroopilly Montessori & RiverGlenn (seller check in from 2:00-5:00pm). Follow the road around to the pool on your left, there is a small bus shelter on right for drop off and hall is behind. There are 2 paths the one on the right hand side doesn’t have steps.

If you are buying or just looking go to Witton Road into Bridge street Car park on the right.

Nudgee Junior College, Kate st Indooroopilly.
Fish & other items in at 2.00pm-5pm. Auction starts 4.00pm.
Mar 122014
 

Original story at Phys.org

Australia has successfully hatched its first shark born via artificial insemination with hopes that the development can ultimately be used to help breed threatened species, an aquarium said Wednesday.
The first brown banded bamboo shark pup born in Australia via Artificial Insemination is shown a at the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium on March 2, 2014

The first brown banded bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) pup born in Australia via Artificial Insemination is shown a at the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium on March 2, 2014

Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium said the brown banded bamboo shark pup was born on March 3, ending a process which began in September when aquarists collected a semen sample from a shark in Mooloolaba in northeastern Australia.

This was flown to the southern city of Melbourne and inseminated into the mother the same day—making the pup the first shark to be born globally via a live semen sample transported from one facility to another, Sea Life said.

Melbourne Aquarium vet Rob Jones said the birth of the shark—which is expected to grow from its initial length of 16 centimetres (6.3 inches) to an adult size of 1.2 to 1.5 metres—was a milestone in using assisted reproductive technologies.

“This is a big leap,” he told AFP.

The hatching is part of a nine-year project into understanding the reproductive behaviours of , animals which are common in Australia but are little understood.

The team hope their research will help with plans to manage threatened species in the wild, in particular the critically endangered grey nurse shark.

The egg, one of several laid by the shark in November but the only viable one, was monitored weekly during its incubation period of 112 days.

“With each insemination attempt, we continue to learn about the reproductive behaviours of Australian shark species,” said Melbourne Aquarium research consultant Jon Daly.

“Hopefully we can use this technology as a basis for breeding grey nurse sharks in captivity and, in years to come, boost the species’ dwindling numbers in the wild.”

Grey nurse sharks are considered critically endangered, with estimates that there could be as few as 1,500 left on Australia’s east coast.

Sharks are a known danger for those swimming, diving and surfing around the country and are currently subject to a controversial cull in Western Australia state after a series of fatal attacks in recent years.

The policy to catch and kill any protected great white, tiger or bull shark bigger than three metres off popular west coast beaches has been condemned by conservationists.

Mar 012014
 

Original story at Metro (UK)

A fish with an unusual addiction to prawn cocktail crisps has been put on a healthier diet after turning a shade of pink.
Chip addict: If you see this fish, don’t give her any Skips.  Photo: Sea Life London aquarium

Chip addict: If you see this fish, don’t give her any Skips. Photo: Sea Life London aquarium

The Giant Gourami is being weaned off her favourite Skips snack by staff at the Sea Life London aquarium.

Aquarists at the centre were baffled by the 40cm fish’s refusal to feed until they learned of its previous unorthodox diet.

‘I have never heard of a fish being fed crisps,’ said curator Jamie Oliver.

‘Gouramis usually eat a diet of fruit and vegetation but fortunately Gerty doesn’t appear to have suffered any ill effects from her unhealthy addiction.

‘However, we would not recommend feeding fish crisps of any kind.’

He added: ‘We’re delighted we could find a home for Gerty but her case just goes to show how important it is to be responsible when buying creatures for home aquaria.’

The Sea Life London aquarium support the Big Fish Campaign which aims to raise awareness about the problem of aquarium fish growing too large for standard-sized home aquariums.

On the prowl: ‘Hey, you, gimme some more chips, pronto Photo: Sea Life London aquarium

On the prowl: ‘Hey, you, gimme some more chips, pronto Photo: Sea Life London aquarium

Feb 272014
 

Original story by , Brisbane Times

The Queensland government says it has ‘‘no intention’’ of reducing ranger-led activities in a $2.5 million revamp of the Walkabout Creek centre at The Gap.
Platypus in the wild at Walkabout Creek. Photo: Karleen Minney

Platypus in the wild at Walkabout Creek. Photo: Karleen Minney

Fairfax Media understands the state government has set aside $2.5 million for the stage one of a new centre on the site, which is in Premier Campbell Newman’s Ashgrove electorate.

This follows a Fairfax Media story yesterday questioning the marketing of the nature centre, which includes a rare chance to see a platypus in a natural setting.

However residents are concerned the master plan for the site – the regional headquarters for the National Parks and Wildlife Service – plans to wind back the animal enclosure at the centre.

In a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, the government said there were ‘‘no plans to discontinue ranger-led wildlife encounters at the facility’’.

Enoggera Weir, behind the centre. Photo: Tony Moore

Enoggera Weir, behind the centre. Photo: Tony Moore

‘‘Certainly there are no plans to turn the location into a ‘theme park’,’’ the statement said.

The government has received 265 public submissions to its master plan for the site, which includes plans to use a ‘‘flying fox’’ or ‘‘zip line’’ to re-invigorate the area, beside Enoggera Weir.

The plan also recommends kayak and canoe trips on nearby Enoggera Weir.

Stage one of the upgrade includes the placement of the ‘‘flying fox’’, new playground equipment, picnic areas and barbeques.

Flying fox lines would go in the outdoor section of the wildlife enclosure, which now runs down to Enoggera Weir.

Some residents have questioned the impact of the extra noise from Enoggera Weir on local bird species, like the Red Browed Finch.

This area now houses the outside wallaby and wombat enclosure.

The majority of respondents have been supportive of the draft master plan for the centre, the government said in a statement.

‘‘The master plan seeks to expand nature-based opportunities for visitors and encourage them to explore national parks in the area,’’ it read.

‘‘To get out ‘into the bush’ and reap the health and wellbeing benefits that an active outdoor lifestyle offers.”

One of the submissions came from the Riverlife Centre at Kangaroo Point, which runs canoes and kayaks on the Brisbane River.

Manager Josh Wicks confirmed Riverlife was interested in being part of any revamped centre at The Gap.

‘‘But it comes down to what activities that they are willing to keep open,’’ he said.

‘‘My understanding is that they still have not got a firm understanding of what they are going to offer.

‘‘But I understand that is likely to come about June.’’

He said Riverlife would not run wildlife operations, but was interested in running canoe and boutique-type events from the site.

‘‘We obviously don’t have any say in what happens to that wildlife zoo, but we wouldn’t be saying that you would have to get rid of that,’’ he said.

Mr Wicks said a lot of locals were saying they wanted access to the weir.

‘‘So we might be interested in running jazz-kind of events under the stars like we do down at Kangaroo Point, which the locals like,’’ he said.

‘‘And I’m not sure that there is the opportunity to do that type of thing – we have to wait until the government releases the master plan – but we are willing to look at that.’’

Tenders are expected to be offered in June.

Feb 102014
 

Original story by Bec Crew, Scientific American

It’s jellyfish mania in Australia right now, thanks to our snotastic new friend, whose discovery on a Tasmanian beach was announced just last week. While Captain Vom waits patiently for his new official name, we’ve got time to welcome another Australian jellyfish species into the spotlight, and this one’s been waiting more than a century for its fifteen minutes.
Crambione cookii with its fish friends. Photo: Puk Scivyer

Crambione cookii with its fish friends. Photo: Puk Scivyer

Meet Crambione cookii: a species that was discovered in the 1890s off the coast of Cookstown in Queensland and then not seen again for more than a hundred years. Well, that was how the story went, so when Puk Scivyer from Underwater World on the [Gold] Sunshine Coast photographed a dead specimen in 1999, she knew she was on to something pretty special. Especially since there were no photographs of the species on record – just a single sketch from the original discovery.

She sent the photograph to CSIRO marine biologist and Australia’s foremost authority on everything jellies, Lisa-Anne Gershwin, and in 2010, Gershwin published the discovery. The first confirmed sighting of the species in more than 100 years.

C. cookii is about 50 cm across the dome and about that long vertically. It’s got a light, pinkish hue, and a mass of thick, frilly tentacles. “It looks like a cauliflower with legs,” says Scivyer.

Things got spooky when late last year, Scivyer picked up another C. cookii, and this time, she’d caught a live one. “We were out on our boat, releasing turtles on that particular day, when I saw a rather large jelly in the water that didn’t look like the ones we normally encounter. We were in the process of setting up a jellyfish exhibit, so maybe our eyes were open a bit more than usual,” says Sciyver.

She sent Gershwin some footage of her find. “She said, ‘I think this is Crambione cookii. What do you think?’ And I looked at it and went, ‘Oh my God. You’ve got to be kidding. What are the odds? Because at that time we thought that it was an incredibly, incredibly rare species, and the only two sightings in 100 years were by the same person.”

Coincidence? Kind of, but only in the sense that Scivyer was the one qualified person to come across the species twice in over a century. It turns out that plenty of people had seen the species since its original discovery, and sure enough, once they knew it was special, the photographs started to pour in.

“It was pretty exciting. It’s just that it escaped the scientific community’s eyes for 100 years, but now that it’s been seen, members of the public have been contacting us with pictures,” says Scivyer. “So it’s not like it’s the last single jelly in the world, it’s just that nobody had really been in a position to find it when they knew that it was something unusual. They’re not rare, it’s more that they’re rarely encountered.”

When Scivyer pulled C. cookii out of the ocean, she noticed that nine fish seemed to be living amongst its tentacles. She scooped them up and they were housed together in a special jelly tank at Underwater World. And then, as if from nowhere, fish emerged from all over the place.

Crambione cookii in its Underwater World tank. Photo: Puk Scivyer.

Crambione cookii in its Underwater World tank. Photo: Puk Scivyer.

“It was just a weirdest thing,” says Gershwin. “When [Scivyer] caught the specimen and let it go in the aquarium, I think it originally had nine fish with it. She sent me video with the nine fish and she was so excited. And then the next day she sent me more video and it’s got 25 or 30 fish. And then the next day she sent me more video and it’s got like 50 fish. It was unbelievable.”

“That’s probably what we found most interesting about him,” says Scivyer. “This single jelly had a population of 76 fish and several crustaceans living with him. The fish were actually nestling the jelly. Up until now it’s always been thought that they didn’t make contact with the jelly to avoid being stung, but from everything we’ve seen, they actually physically nestle in it, and they’re not the species of fish that would normally be known to do that, like clown fish with anemones. But these were trevally, [a species] never known to [associate so closely with jellies].”

Scivyer counted at least three different species of fish that were living with the jellyfish. She thinks they might have been feeding on the parasitic crustaceans that had attached themselves to its tentacles.

While it’s clear from the number of sightings by members of the public thatCrambione cookii is not rare, and possibly not even particularly uncommon, figuring out its population density and range is a particularly difficult task.

“With most jellyfish blooms, it comes and goes, sometimes within 24 hours. You can never quite pick when they’re going to happen,” says Scivyer. “We’re kind of getting an indication that it’s this time of the year [December], because it’s coming into our summer period, and we haven’t had any pictures from in the middle of winter. But that could be because people are out of the water when it’s rather cold. We’re also getting pictures distributed up the east coast of Australia. It’s a rather extensive range compared to what we thought originally.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq8hNS9dWIE

And finally, the million-dollar question – just how powerful is that sting?

“I would say moderate,” says Scivyer. “I haven’t physically made contact with the tentacles, but I did happen to touch the water that he’s been in, and it feels like a decent whack on the hand. You can definitely feel it in the water. It’s quite common for jellyfish, a lot of people when they’re in the water, they get the little stingy bits on them, quite often they’re just the stinging cells of the jellyfish.”

“Oh it stings. It hurts,” says Gershwin. “It’s not life threatening or anything like that. But it will get your attention. I think maybe it’s kind of like a Lion’s Mane or a Snotty, so it’s pretty zappy, but then it goes away. It makes you wonder, certainly it must be stinging these fish, but then to have the fish sheltering inside it, you’ve got to sort to say, well no, it can’t possibly be stinging the fish, or they’d be dead.”

Unfortunately the jellyfish didn’t last too long in captivity, but judging from the size of it – the original specimen from the 1980s was just 10 cm across the dome – it was probably fairly old when it was picked up. It now resides in the Queensland Museum as a specimen for future studies.

I’d just like to point out that the Daily Mail called Crambione cookii “deadly”, “incredibly rare”, and said that “Ms Scivyer thinks it is unlikely that any more will be found”. Gizmodo called it “deadly” too. Guys, come on. Thanks for ruining itsWikipedia page.

Feb 102014
 

Original story by Mark Prigg, Mail Online

A team of Dutch researchers has developed a remote control aquarium on wheels that fish can steer themselves. It could give your fish a new lease of life – and allow them to explore the world outside their aquarium. The bizarre gadget is set to be launched as a Kickstarter project.

It uses a camera to analyse the direction the fish is swimming in – and controls the car accordingly.

‘We came up with the idea of developing the ‘Fish on Wheels’ device because we wanted to have something to showcase the possibilities of computer vision technology,’ Thomas de Wolf of Dutch firm Studio Diip told MailOnline.

‘We then came to the idea that with computer vision even animals would be able to control devices.

‘The best way to show this was to enable fish to drive their own aquarium wherever they want to go.’

A prototype version of  ‘Fish on Wheels’ was constructed using a standard webcam, a battery powered Beagleboard and an Arduino controlled robot vehicle.

Using the contrast of the fish with the bottom of the fish tank, its position is determined and used to send commands to the Arduino computer control board to move the car into that direction.

‘Our pet fish have always been limited to their water holding area known as ‘the fish tank’, the firm said.

‘In an attempt to liberate fish all over the world, the first self driving car for fish has been developed.

‘Up until now driving vehicles has been limited to mankind only (excluding a handful of autonomous vehicles driven by computers), but now your pet fish can also put the pedal to the metal.’

de Wolf said the project was still only at the prototype stage, and is set to be improved before being launched as a Kickstarter project.

‘Hopefully this invention will encourage more development in enhanced pet mobility, so pet animals can travel the world more freely.’

The team admit they are not sure how much the fish knows about its newfound ability.

‘We are still not sure if the fish really has any idea of what it is doing for now,’ said de Wolf.

‘After letting it drive a little while we always put it back in it’s normal aquarium with plants and filters to not stress it out too much.’

Feb 082014
 

Original story by Fiona Hudson, Herald Sun

A GIANT $350,000-plus aquarium installed at racing identity Sean Buckley’s luxury Toorak mansion has sparked tank warfare, amid swirling claims of leaks, fish deaths and unpaid bills.

The aquarium, complete with a battleship. Source: HeraldSun

The aquarium, complete with a battleship. Source: HeraldSun

The 30,000-litre faux lagoon – believed to be the largest private aquarium in Australia – is modelled on a famous World War II battle site.

It contains a 6-metre replica shipwreck and a 2-metre replica plane. Designers described the tricky build in Mr Buckley’s billiard room as “much like a military operation”.

But the battle really began when water was added, with claims and counterclaims flowing freely between contractors and Ultra Tune boss Mr Buckley.

One dispute recently washed up in the Magistrates’ Court, with a contractor filing civil action against Mr Buckley over an allegedly unpaid $40,000 invoice.

The legal action – launched by Vogue Pools & Spas Pty Ltd, who installed the walls and viewing panes – was settled in December for an undisclosed sum.

Ultra Tune corporate solicitor Albert Chong claimed payments were kept from Vogue Pools & Spas – and also aquarium designer Reefscape Australia – because the tank had sprung a leak and, he alleged, exotic fish worth $60,000 had died.

Reefscape Australia chief executive Craig Stuart confirmed a small payment was held back over some disputed workmanship and material costs. He said Mr Buckley had not informed him of any dead fish.

Cox Plate winning racehorse owner Mr Buckley bought the half-built French Provincial-style mansion on one of Toorak’s best streets in 2009 for $7 million at a mortgagee’s auction and has spent millions completing it.

The company that oversaw most of the elaborate building works, Hocking Build & Construct Pty Ltd, recently went into liquidation.

Mr Buckley is among alleged debtors, with claims he owes up to $20,000. The lawyer acting for Mr Buckley in that matter, Gaspare Sirianni, said he was unsure what the alleged debt was for and had sought further details from the liquidator.

Pool builder Geoff Burke – whose tilers created a massive mosaic depicting horse-lover Mr Buckley’s steeds – said Mr Buckley had paid all his invoices promptly and was “a great client”.

fiona.hudson@news.com.au

Feb 042014
 

 

The goldfish test that can change your behaviour

Original story by Miriam Sullivan, University of Western Australia at The Conversation

The average Australian spends more than five hours watching YouTube every month.

With such high viewership, it’s no surprise that interest groups are reaching out with YouTube to try to change people’s behaviour, including well known campaigns such as Beyond Blue’s Man Therapy and Tourism Australia’s Best Jobs in the World. But how successful are they?

One memorable goldfish. Photo: Flickr/ Benson Kua

One memorable goldfish. Photo: Flickr/ Benson Kua

What influence?

It’s well established that television and movies can influence audience behaviour. For example, medical dramas can increase the number of people signing up for organ donation and encourage women to get breast cancer screenings, while movies that feature smoking increase the number of teenagers taking up smoking.

There’s even a Hollywood charity dedicated to using television and films for promoting public health messages. However, YouTube videos are much shorter than television shows or movies, meaning that people have less time to become involved and persuaded to change their behaviour.

In our study we looked at whether a single viewing of a YouYube video could influence a person’s behaviour a month later. More specifically, we looked at whether watching a 50-second YouTube clip could encourage pet fish owners to regularly clean out their aquariums.

The experiment

Why pet fish? In many behavioural studies results can be biased by outside influences. If we studied exercise or smoking the participants would have been exposed to similar advertising campaigns elsewhere and might be tempted to lie about their behaviour to feel better about themselves. We were fairly confident that fish owners wouldn’t come across any other videos on cleaning fish tanks.

Fish are also the forgotten family pet. Just like cats and dogs, fish are intelligent, long-lived and can feel pain, but you would never flush your dead cat down a toilet or win puppies at carnivals.

With 1.5 billion pet fish sold globally every year, it’s time we started taking better care of them and regularly cleaning out an aquarium is one of the most effective ways to keep your fish healthy.

Nearly 200 fish owners took part in our online experiment. After answering a few short questions about keeping fish and how often they cleaned their tank, they were randomly assigned to one of three groups.

Goldfish survey video: the sad version.

Two of the groups were shown different videos designed to improve their tank cleaning habits, either a sad video about pets dying or a funny video of fish pooing. The remaining control group were shown no video at all.

Goldfish survey video: the funny version.

One month later, they were asked again how often they cleaned their tanks and what they remembered about the video.

What they remembered

Initially, it looked as if watching the YouTube video made no difference to their behaviour. About a third of people cleaned their tank more often after the experiment, a third less often and a third stayed the same.

However, a closer examination revealed that the results were slightly more complex. People who watched a video but did not improve were already doing the right thing and cleaning out their aquariums regularly.

So, rather then being unaffected by the video, they simply didn’t have room for improvement. But for the one-quarter of respondents who agreed they needed to improve, the videos made a big difference.

The group of owners who said they needed to improve but did not see either YouTube video actually got worse over the following month. Half cleaned their tank the same number of times and the other half cleaned their tank less often. None of the participants in this group improved their habits.

By comparison, 60% of fish owners who intended to improve and watched a YouTube video started cleaning out their tanks more often. Only 6% cleaned their tank less after watching the video.

Make ‘em laugh to remember

When it comes to remembering the message, comedy appears to beat tragedy, with 88% of people who saw the funny video recalling it after one month compared to 60% who recalled the sad video.

Our results suggest that YouTube videos can affect a person’s behaviour, if only by reinforcing what you already intended to do. For example, a YouTube video encouraging people to quit smoking won’t help people who don’t smoke, and won’t stop determined smokers. But it could help people who were thinking about quitting to start taking action.

So for people thinking of making a YouTube video there is some evidence to suggest that a funny video will be remembered better, which is possibly why Melbourne’s Metro Trains Dumb Ways to Die was a YouTube hit despite dealing with a serious topic.

Dumb Ways to Die

Our results, while promising, represent a small sample and may not apply to all topics or all groups of people. YouTube is an important feature of modern life and more research needs to be done to determine its full potential to influence our behaviour.

This is an edited version of Miriam Sullivan’s presentation “Can we change behaviour using YouTube?”, delivered today at the Australian Science Communicators national conference in Brisbane.

With thanks to co-researchers Professor Nancy Longnecker and Associate Professor Dominique Blache. No animals were harmed in the making of the films; they were all willing volunteers in return for treats.The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.