Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


Death of a Goldfish

Robert W. Bly, founder,

If you haven't seen it, go out, rent, and watch a decades-old comedy film, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet."

It stars the late Don Knots as Mr. Limpet, a mild-manned man whose main interest is fish.

In the movie, he has a large tank filled with goldfish and plants. Later, he falls off a peer into the ocean and turns into a giant fish with a supersonic blast. The U.S. Navy used Limpet and his blust as a weapon against the Germans in World War II, but that's another story.

It's no accident that Limpet, an aquarium hobbyist, was portrayed as owning a goldfish tank: for years, goldfish were the favorite starter fish of first-time hobbyists and the most popular fish to keep.

Everyone had goldfish at one time or another, and we were no exception. On and off during the years we had goldfish, both in bowls and later in a 5-gallon glass tank.

More recently, we had a 40-gallon tank with turtles to which we added goldfish. The goldfish were introduced as feeder fish, but the turtles didn't touch them, and the two species lived together peacefully in the aquarium.

For decades, goldfish have been given as cheap prizes in carnival games: toss a ping pong ball into a small plastic bowl, and you win the bowl with water and a goldfish in it.

If you keep your prize goldfish in the tiny bowl, it won't last. But I always moved it to a larger bowl with gravel and an aerator, and kept these goldfish for months or years.

When we were little, my sister Fern had a goldfish in a small bowl, which she responsibly kept clean with frequent water changes. But one day I heard her scream.

I rushed into the bathroom to find her standing over the bathroom sink sobbing hysterically. She had dumped the water and fish into the sink, but had forgotten to close the drain. Of course, both water and fish immediately went down the drain.

I opened the bathroom storage cabinet under the sink. Frantically clearing everything out of it, I saw we had a trap.

All I had to do was remove the trap with a wrench, rescue the fish, and I would be a hero to my little sister - if I were quick enough.

Our parents weren't home and I couldn't find a wrench. So I used a pair of pliers.

But the plumbing was old, and the trap was rusted into place. I couldn't remove it, and as the minutes ticked by, the odds of a rescue diminished rapidly.

I never did get the trap off or the goldfish out of the sink. My mother still lives in that house. Either the goldfish was flushed out into the sewer system, or a tiny goldfish skeleton remains in the trap (only joking).

I kept dozens of other fish since then, and my sister had a small aquarium with her husband recently. But no fish's death was as traumatic for us as the failed rescue of Fern's goldfish.

Action step: if you handle fish over a kitchen or bathroom sink, make sure the drain is closed. One slip and the fish are gone in a flash.