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Animal Planet’s “Tanked” Controversy

Updated on May 30, 2015
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa is an exotic pet owner, zoo attender, and plant obsessed person and doesn't think there is anything wrong with that.

Animal Planet has two shows that deal exclusively with exotic pets: Fatal Attractions, which often produces piercing criticism towards people with ‘large and dangerous’ pets such as large reptiles, lions, chimps, and even a bull, and the newer much more light-hearted reality program Tanked, which features the day to day chaos and humor at the work of professional aquarium builders based in Las Vegas (Acrylic Tank Manufacturing). Tanked is a show that might have sounded, due to its title, fated to fail, but this clearly isn’t the case as the show has been picked up for more seasons (5 seasons total so far) and consumes a large portion of the network’s airing time.

Mimic octopus
Mimic octopus | Source

Education vs. Entertainment

Of course, unlike the pets in Fatal Attractions, save for maybe some venomous species or crafty but short-lived octopuses (such as the one that belongs to twice featured comedian Tracey Morgan), fish are not dangerous and stay permanently contained to their aquatic enclosures, and this is exactly why utmost care must be taken to stock an aquarium appropriately.

Animal Planet (its motto is “surprisingly human”) has received much criticism from fans of how the network used to be, exclaiming that once educational or animal-oriented shows have now been swapped with sensationalistic and rapidly-paced reality TV with more focus on humans, animals being villainous and attacking humans, or silly mythical creatures (mermaids, dragons, and bigfoot). Tanked seems to be a good example of this, with a format similar to Pimp My Ride.

Reef Aquarium

A nicely stocked reef aquarium (real corals) with plenty of swimming/forging room for the inhabitants.
A nicely stocked reef aquarium (real corals) with plenty of swimming/forging room for the inhabitants. | Source

Common Criticisms of Tanked

  • Fish seemingly added as soon as the tank is filled with water
  • Tanks given no time to mature
  • Adding tap water to aquariums
  • Tanks with no live rock
  • Too many fish/ overcrowding
  • Questionable environments
  • Man-handling fish

Typical staged humor antics that are trademark of this particularly noxious (but unfortunately engaging and entertaining) type of programming are prevalent in the show, but this alone is not an issue. While the show may use TV-editing magic to fabricate its own reality, it is glossing over the very real subject of animal husbandry and the harvesting of extremely delicate species, which is also having a real impact on real life animals (we’ve seen a similar effect with movies like Finding Nemo). The fact of the matter is that Animal Planet hasn’t been too kind towards the subject of keeping larger exotic pets, with many now deceased owners on the network having been subjected to their mental sanity being questioned, yet it now actively promotes a reckless approach to a popular exotic pet hobby (yes, marine fish, being animals that are exotic, are exotic pets) with an undeniably high mortality rate.

Coral reef in the wild
Coral reef in the wild | Source
Koran Angelfish
Koran Angelfish | Source

Live Animals as Décor

Fish, like dogs, tigers, reptiles, and birds are animals that have physical and psychological needs, and they can become stressed (often fatally) if their environment does not meet these needs. Fish (of which most in the show are from the ocean) vary in their behavior; some are open water swimmers and others may be more sedentary or slow-moving (benthic), forging on rocks or waiting for their prey to come to them. Yet to most people, a fish is a fish.

Fish are obviously not interactive pets, nor are they often viewed as companions. Fish essentially serve the purpose of being living ornaments (and they do provide this dazzling function) and are especially prone out of all exotic pets (I speculate) of ending up in the hands of owners who should not have them due to lack of experience or unwillingness to commit to a higher standard of care. The death of a fish is not often seen as a need for husbandry improvement, but as a need to buy a replacement animal.

Some higher maintenance species featured on the show

Sting rays
Black tip reef shark
Mimic Octopus
Mandarin Goby
Nurse shark
Certain Corals
Port jackson shark
Flame scallops
Porcupine Pufferfish
Leopard shark
Sea Anemone
JBJ Picotope Curved Glass Nano Aquarium Kit 3 Gallon
JBJ Picotope Curved Glass Nano Aquarium Kit 3 Gallon

Nano-reef tanks can be suitable for beginners who want to experiment with small corals and no fish for a lesser cost.


Skateboarding on fish?

What you should know about the aquarium hobby

Particularly with marine fish, vast knowledge is a pre-requisite if the animal is to have a relatively good chance of surpassing 5 years of age. While lies are often spread about exotic pets, such as the common claim that ‘they are all taken from the wild’, this certainly is true of marine fish, which are imported from tropical oceans all over the world. Many may die in transport and even more will not live long in aquariums. Captive bred fish are not common and must be sought out with only a few species so far being successfully propagated in captivity (here are some examples).

Made popular by the movie Finding Nemo, various clownfish can be captive bred.
Made popular by the movie Finding Nemo, various clownfish can be captive bred. | Source

Basically, unless stated otherwise, a marine aquarium fish has come from the wild. I am a staunch supporter of pet ownership, but facts are facts. Not much is known of how long these fragile animals, many being low on the food chain, may live in the wild, but aquariums can be rather harsh environments (the smaller the tank, the harder the water chemistry is to maintain) that fluctuate frequently. Thanks are very prone to ‘crashing’ if your home is hit by an ‘act of God’ or even a simple power outage during a blazing summer or frigid winter. All of these things should be considered before adding complex aquariums (generators, gallons of extra water on hand, ect. are a must to prevent disaster).

20 Foot shark tank

Shark Tank Issues

Sharks are always popular with people, and only a few species are suitable for home aquariums. Some shark species cannot even survive in large, public aquariums. Most sharks actually depend on their swimming patterns to breath efficiently, so one can see why issues would pop up with their confinement in a rectangular enclosure.

The tank in the video to the right is enormous for a home aquarium, yet it is not anywhere near big enough for the shark species (black and white tip reef sharks) placed in it long term (it is unclear whose decision it was). The problem with getting fish that will eventually outgrow your home aquarium with plans of "donating them" to a professional aquarium (as Tracey says in the video) is that if, for whatever reason, the facility cannot take your pet, where will it go? Perhaps the aquarium has agreed to take Morgan's pre-owned fish for publicity (?), but it is not good to encourage other pet owners to depend on zoos for discarded livestock.

The New Marine Aquarium
The New Marine Aquarium

Interested in a marine aquarium? Here is some recommended reading.

Adult black tip reef shark. They are open water swimmers that patrol coral reefs.
Adult black tip reef shark. They are open water swimmers that patrol coral reefs. | Source

It is great that Morgan has such an eclectic taste in aquarium animals (he even has an octopus and jellyfish, which are rather high maintenance species) but the unusual thing is that Morgan's massive tank can accommodate smaller (albeit less impressive looking) sharks for their entire lives comfortably, so why not go with them? Here is another example of a tank they've built that is not appropriate for a black tip reef shark long term (even in the short term, the animal looks a little cramped). One shark ended up dying after colliding with a prop in the tank, as I've just discovered after posting the video. The black tip reef shark was removed after predating on other resident fish (a consequence of inappropriate fish stocking). Another example in a dentist office, where Wayde explains that he will simply re-home the overgrown nurse shark (only public aquariums can accommodate something that large). It just seems like a poor thing to promote, and one wonders if maybe the sharks have a big enough die off rate for homes to always be available for large adults.

Aquarium in Las Vegas
Aquarium in Las Vegas | Source

Narrow/tall tanks?

Many of the stylish designs featured in the show have sufficient gallon amount, but they are vertical and slender. One wonders if fish psychologically used to swimming horizontally can be affected negatively by these designs. Also featured in the Tracey Morgan episode was an extremely narrow 'surprise' tank for multiple goldfish (in the shape of a baby bottle) that I really hope was dismantled after filming. This heavily stocked phone booth tank does not have much horizontal swim room for the yellow tangs.

Crazy/ unique tank designs

Do the unique and artistic tank designs featured in the show meet the needs of fish? The main objective of the crew of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing appears to be providing their client with amazingly constructed aquariums that are impressive in appearance, and Brett Raymer and Wayde King, the brothers in law who own the operation, indeed do amazing work, give or take some of the playful tackiness within some of the customizations that may turn off more serious aquarists.

Once the regal tanks are constructed however, fish are then selected and added, and that’s when sometimes problems ensue. Fish are shown in the program as being selected for their looks and aesthetic needs of the client’s project (in season 1, episode 3, unplanned fish are added immediately only to provide a more dazzling display for the client's planned marriage proposal), giving an impression that all fish are compatible with each other or comfortable in any tank that’s relatively large.

Setting up aquariums and Stocking

This is probably the biggest issue that has many aquarists upset. Aquariums are indeed like a fine wine as in they get better with age. To put things simply, the longer you wait to add fish to your newly set up aquarium, the better (preferably with live ocean rock that provides natural filtration as well as biodiversity). Aquatic animals are sensitive to changes in the water chemistry, and for keepers of invertebrates like corals, delicate sessile fan worms, and anemones (corals are featured on season 1 episode 5), this process is even more essential. With fish, adding them straight away to a new aquarium can be gotten away with, but it’s hard on the animals, and especially if many animals are added simultaneously.



For decorative purposes, many of the tanks featured in the show are filled with fish to the point that a fish is visible per every couple of inches of the water column. This is pleasing to the human eye but may be a problem for fish, and especially those that are territorial or non-schooling. There are many rules of thumb for fish stocking floating around the internet (for small tanks, it is recommended to have only one fish in a 10 gallon, with perhaps up the 3-4 small fish in a 20 gallon, ect.). Stocking will also depend on the species-specific needs of the fish (as mentioned, schooling fish obviously benefit from the presence of their conspecifics, and some fish spend more time swimming). It is probably a good idea to let open water swimmers have enough room to swim straight without crossing paths with other fish constantly.

Water quality

Unlike with what is common for freshwater tanks, saltwater fish usually have a need for more space and a lower 'bioload' (amount of fish vs. gallons), as too many fish will produce waste that will result in higher nitrate levels (larger tanks can deal with this problem with efficient protein skimmers). Freshwater fish can deal with higher nutrient levels a little better. Also unlike freshwater systems, marine aquarists strongly recommend the use of filtered water--either distilled or reverse osmosis/deionized (RO/DI). Many owners of large aquariums purchase the latter filter, and owners of smaller aquariums often buy this water in stores (Walmart has RO water for about 87 cents a gallon). So as a novice can see, there is a lot of essential beginner information not presented to viewers of the show, and many other essential aspects of maintaining aquariums are lengthy and exceed the scope of this article.


It is evident that the show is heavily and deceptively edited, perhaps omitting when the guys perform crucial (but boring) water tests, discussions involving the long-term care of the species chosen, and the intricacies of maintaining and cleaning the aquarium so that they remain presentable and healthy. The show being what it is isn’t the fault of the people featured in it, and their occupation involves giving some very well-off clients exactly what they request (in fact, in Season 1, Episode 1, one of the guys explains the importance of adding fish slowly and letting them acclimate when they are installing a quarantine tank for some very high end clients). I can’t know to what extent, if any, that these aquarium builders attempt to persuade their beginner clients to shy away from difficult but often desirable species like sharks and opt for fish that are better matches for their experience or dedication level. The show makes it appear as though Wayde and Brett pick the fish (with the exception of the shark requests), and the client usually has the fish's species explained to them.


What do you think?

Has "Tanked" inspired you to start an aquarium?

See results

How "Tanked" can improve

Tanked has a golden opportunity to turn its success of gaining viewership into providing some education for people looking to get into the addicting but often tragic (for the new fish) hobby of fish-keeping. Brief mentions of some of the things I've mentioned here can be included, either verbally or with little footnotes at the bottom of the screen (right now, this area is dedicated to little titbits about the cast and other on goings). Animal Planet can provide a website that has an introduction to saltwater keeping, and perhaps a little background on some of the conservation issues involved with the collection of certain species, and advertise the link before the credits (i.e, "interested in aquarium keeping? Visit this page for more information!"). This would be a sound way of acknowledging these relevant issues while not jeopardizing the entertainment value of the show. Remember that fish in your tank can never leave, so be very mindful of this when stocking it.

It would be great of course, if a show that got into the gritty dry facts of aquarium keeping could be presented on a hobby channel, akin to the shows they have on gardening, in the future.


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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I liked this article immensely. It is very informative and interesting.

      I used to be an avid fan of Animal Planet in the 90s, but now the show has become reverse of what it used to be. Most of its programs seem to put wild animals in stress. 'Call of the Wildman' is another such show.

      'Tanked' is a funky show that is totally what a professional aquarium isn't. I have seen building of some public aquariums and know how delicate the whole 'environmentalization' of the habitat is. It takes months before fish is introduced to their aquatic environment. Yet, Animal Planet treats them in a real reality show manner.

      I am sharing this excellent article for others to read.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      Thanks a lot Suhail, I loved AP back in the day too. I really miss 'Emergency Vets'. They've changed their format to appeal to a younger audience with a focus on males in their early twenties.

    • profile image

      mike 3 years ago

      It funny how you pick out all of the kids have learned so much from these guys they put down the video games to watch tv they also now have a new hobby. I feel it is The responsibility of the stores

      to educate the client prior to selling them fish, coral reference season 1which was 3years ago I have seen vast improvement in the information these guys relay to the public. Because of theses guys there will be many kids aspiring to be marine biologists and conservationists because o them. In my opinion the aquarium hobby and aquarium store owners should thank theses guys for single handedly changing the industry and putting money in peoples pockets.Most of all they are a great family that shows amazing family values and they put a smile on your face no matter what. How many family shows can you watch with your whole family.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      Mike, that's nice for your kids (although I found it odd that you consider watching TV as a wonderful improvement over video game playing). My article is about the aquarium hobby, which as I stated already has a high mortality rate for the fish involved. I would guess that marine fish surviving past age 3, when they are capable of living much longer, is very rare. So that means something caused their deaths, and people should not just rush out and by fish as decorations. Especially when the tanks are about the needs of an aesthetic purpose over welfare.

      Season 1 and 2 are the only seasons that I scanned profusely since that was available on Netflix, although just because they came out three years ago doesn't excuse them or stop them from being replayed. I believe the Tracey Morgan episode came out this year, and that inspired me to write this article. The baby bottle tank was potentially cruel, and I don't want misconceptions spread about sharks in the home aquarium. You're probably right about the money part, but along with that the standards for distributing these creatures need to rise.

    • esatchel profile image

      PDGreenwell 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Animal Planet, History Channel tow channels we used to love for their programming. Now their programs are more aimed for the "reality Show" audience, full of outrageous things that evidently make money. I've never watched this program, but you make me feel sad for the animals.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      Yes, hopefully it's not as bad as it seems.

    • profile image

      mike 3 years ago

      its television and made for entertainment purposes. plus you don't know what goes on behind the scenes. have you ever been to an aquatic convention with all hobbyist's?They have set ups in all of their booths filled with corals fish etc. That they set up in 1 or 2 days with no editing and no behind the scene magic. How do they do it with low mortality rate? These are the same people that are bashing this amazing show. Do your research and find out. These guys have been in business for almost 20 years I am sure they have more expertise combined than anyone in the marketplace. Like I said watch season 3 they have made tremendous strides in educating the public.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      I know what it's for. I don't think you've read this article. I've never been to a hobbyist convention so I don't see what that has to do with me or this article. You can't be sure of anything other than your speculation as you clearly have some bias for this program that makes little sense. I'm not putting them down for anything other than the aspects of it that may cause more poorly thought out aquarium purchases. It's just a fact that the fish are treated more like decorations than pets, so that's just setting people up for failure.

      And once again, the episode that inspired me to write this -was from season 3-. I did not see all of the episodes but I've seen enough.

    • ZookeeperByNature profile image

      ZookeeperByNature 3 years ago

      Between demonizing non-domestic animals and their owners and stupid shows like this that make fish out to be nothing more than disposable ornaments, Animal Planet has been crappy since Steve Irwin died. I used to love the old Jeff Corwin Experience and Mutual Of Omaha shows as a kid, and I even think Animal Planet had been my favorite channel before Cartoon Network ever was.

      Now I can't really find any positive animal programming on anything beyond youtube, which really sucks. This makes me wonder for the newer generation that has a fascination with animals, like I did when I was little. Will they grow up to fear or loathe them as soulless beings, based on overgeneralized (or inaccurate) facts and demonization? I'm afraid of the answer. Maybe this is the transitional phase onto the trashy, animal rights based future society...

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      Oh I'm sure people don't stop loving animals due to this channel, I do actually attribute animal love to many misguided attempts to 'liberate' them. Fish might be overlooked, however.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 3 years ago from New England

      I have to disagree - I don't think this show can improve. Why? Because the people on the show seem to be CLUELESS about what they're doing! The first thing I saw was one of them taking a puffer fish OUT of the water and letting it puff up with AIR. HELLO, this is not natural, it usually kills the fish who normally puffs up with water! And then they pick weird combinations of fish for looks only - tossing in whole schools of solitary fish while at other times putting only one schooling fish in there. And the tanks... just wow... making a tank skating rink that you can skateboard on?? Those fish must be loving all that noise and chaos! I'd be surprised if any of the fish filmed on the show last past two weeks. Seriously. Have these people ever heard of quarantine?? Anyone who has any any group of animals should know the basics of quarantine. I'm sorry, you're an idiot if you don't.

      I entered the salt water hobby because my boyfriend has been into it and if there's anything I can say about the saltwater hobby it's this: to do it correctly it is painstakingly slow (far too slow to make a fast-paced TV show from) and it also requires extensive knowledge. For me I wanted to get into the hobby to breed some of the fish that do breed in captivity to ease the burden on the ones being captured in the wild - to see a TV show like this does nothing but make me yell profanities at the TV... it is a great disservice to proper aquarium keeping in all its forms. I haven't really watched a lot of Animal Planet since they started airing all those Animal Cops shows 24/7. Far from making me happy the animals were rescued these shows just left me feeling disgusted, angry, and depressed at the society by and large. Is this is what they're going for? To alienate the largest audience possible? Sometimes I wonder.

      Sorry for the rant. you're article was well put together and much appreciated. Voted up.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      Thanks Theophanes, I think the show can emphasize the time aspect of this hobby more, but we must admit that even when done properly the hobby has a significant impact on the livestock involved.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 3 years ago from New England

      Absolutely - but like I said there are a lot of ways to minimize those risks. Setting up a tank overnight and throwing a bunch of livestock in all at once is not the way to achieve this. You can't even do that with chickens. What if one's diseased? The whole flock dies. It's not rocket science. Really. But the show makes it seem it is. Depressing really.

    • mariekbloch profile image

      mariekbloch 3 years ago

      I too dislike this show for the same reasons. Their aquariums are very creative and I like that part, but it'd be a better program if they replaced the whole co-workers shenanigans with serious talk about fish care. I'm also bothered that their clients don't pick out the fish, but they do because of their names or their colors, showing what this hobby is really about: looks rather than the animals. I saw one ep with a functional aquarium drum set. They said it was safe but didn't explain how, and they overstocked what looked like 10 gallon drums with 4-5 goldfish. No talk about maintenance on such a complex tank...

      "Surprisingly human" is right; it's all about the human's interest, not the animals.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      I agree mariekbloch. I wonder if they just make up the parts with the clients not choosing the fish though?

    • mariekbloch profile image

      mariekbloch 3 years ago

      If the clients choose the specific fish, they sure don't present it that way a lot, and that's the problem I think you a were addressing in your hub. They are skipping over a lot of important info to get to the tank building, the tank reveal, and the planned shenanigans that a lot of these shows feel they need to shove in (like Pawn Stars). By missing these key details, the show reinforces that aquariums are purely aesthetic, rather than pet care. Hence the people (supposedly) don't even know what fish they are getting; they're just concerned about the tank, and this is a terrible message to send to viewers who may be interested in the hobby. So I agree with your concerns about it. The show had potential, but...

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 2 years ago from Washington state

      I hate these shows. They are retarded. I saw one episode of some tank show (I don't know if it was Tanked exactly or some spin-off show similar to it) that was being made to exist right behind a pitcher's mound. Why. Just why?

    • profile image

      david 19 months ago

      yes tanks are over stoked to give visable views on tv

    • profile image

      bobo 14 months ago

      its not tap watee, its nurti sea water

    • profile image

      Zachca 12 months ago

      That is an Emperor Angelfish not a Koran!!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 12 months ago from New York


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