Animal Planet’s “Tanked” Controversy
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.
- Is Animal Planet's Fatal Attractions Fair?
The popular Animal Planet series features the shocking deaths of exotic pet owners. The 'attractions' that audiences have to these shows are often 'fatal' for the pursuits of alternative pet owners.
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.
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.
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
Black tip reef shark
Port jackson shark
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?
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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).
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.
Interested in a marine aquarium? Here is some recommended reading.
- One shark is dead, another is wounded at new Applebee’s aquarium in Coney Island - NY Daily News
The new Applebee’s restaurant in Coney Island celebrates its grand opening Monday — and death is on the menu.
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.
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.
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?
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.