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How to Transfer Fish from a Leaky Aquarium to a New One

Updated on December 29, 2012

Tank changes are always stressful on fish, and emergency tank changes due to a leaky aquarium are also stressful on fish owners! If your fish tank is leaking, don't panic. Collect yourself, and respond to the situation swiftly and efficiently.

Hopefully you notice the leak in your tank before too much water seeps out and causes damage to your home.
Hopefully you notice the leak in your tank before too much water seeps out and causes damage to your home. | Source

Catching Aquarium Fish with a Net

It can be fairly frustrating to net a fish, especially if you know that more water seeps from the tank to the floor with every passing moment...

Try to make the experience as least stressful for you and the fish as possible. If you don't net the fish within the first few tries, move any structures or decorations within the tank. Corner the fish, bring the net beneath the fish and scoop it up to the surface. Breathe, and try again if necessary.

You can also try using two nets, one to chase the fish into the other. The size, color, and density of the net also make a difference.

Dealing with the Leak

1. Place a towel or other absorbent material at or beneath the leak to mitigate any water damage. Replace as needed.

2. Identify the source of the leak. Is the glass fractured? Or is there an anomoly along the seal? If the origin of the leak is not on the bottom of the tank, simply remove water until the water level is below the problem area. The fish may be able to stay in the tank for the time being.

3. If keeping the fish in the tank is impossible, you must decide where to relocate the fish.

  • If you have MTS (Multiple Tank Syndrome), you can likely move the fish from the leaking tank into another tank. Depending on the kind of fish, and their maturity, overcrowding in a tank can be an acceptable short term solution. Make sure that the temperature and pH levels in the other tank are close enough to the original that the fish will not go into shock.
  • If you do not have any other tanks available, employ a clean bucket, or other container, that has never held any harsh chemicals. If you wash the container with soap, make sure that it is thoroughly rinsed. Fill the bucket or container with water from the leaking tank, then move the fish into it. Labrynth fish can survive in uncirculated water, but many other fish cannot live for long in uncirculated water. The bucket or container is only a temporary place to store the fish until a new tank can be set up.

4. When all the fish have been temporarily relocated, bail any remaining water from the doomed tank into a bucket and dump the water down the bathtub drain or, if a sufficient bucket is not available, siphon the water from the tank into the toilet. This should be done as quickly as possible to prevent any water damage to your house.

The Aftermath

Now what? You have several options:

  • Fix the tank (see below for directions on resealing an aquarium)
  • Find a new tank
  • Sell or give away the fish

As long as the glass is intact, it is relatively easy and very cost effective to simply reseal the aquarium. If this is not an option, a retired tank is often still useful as a rodent or reptile enclosure. Look for good deals on new tanks on Craigslist or Ebay. Of course, you may decide you are done with fish completely!

Resealing an Aquarium


  • Single edged razor
  • 100% non-toxic, clear, aquarium safe silocone*
  • Acetone
  • Paper Towels

*Not all silocone sealants are safe for your aquarium, so double check that the label says "aquarium safe."

  1. Scrape all of the old silicone out of the tank. The new silocone does not stick to old silicone very well, so take the time to re-do the entire aquarium.
  2. Prep all the joints of the tank for new silicone by wiping acetone over the area and letting dry for 15 minutes
  3. Spread the silicone into the joints, making sure to completely cover every edge and crack. Dip your finger in water and spread the silicone smoothly into the cracks. If possible, work outside so that fumes can evaporate.
  4. Let dry for 48 hours.
  5. Fill the aquarium and let it sit for approximately 2 weeks to make sure there are no weak spots in the new seal.

Good luck with your tank!


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