With today’s chaotic schedules, it’s the norm for many marine aquarium hobbyists to see their fish only in passing (e.g., catching a fleeting glimpse when tossing in some food just before heading off to work) or when performing routine maintenance chores. But there are several good reasons not to sell yourself—or your fish—short with respect to time spent in close observation. Here are five of them:
1) To take stock of your livestock
It’s easy to overlook a missing fish if you have a good-sized community and don’t take the time to do a daily headcount. At least once a day—ideally at feeding time—verify that all of your specimens are present.
If someone doesn’t make an appearance, first check all around the outside of the tank to make sure it didn’t jump. If a fish did take a flying leap and it happened very recently, it may still survive the ordeal if returned to water immediately. Also, sometimes jumpers land in improbable water-filled spaces in the aquarium system, such as in overflow boxes, down in sumps, etc., so check those locations too.
Next, visually inspect the inside of the tank to determine whether the specimen is still alive but in hiding (potentially in the live rock or even buried in the substrate in the case of certain species, such as various wrasses) or is deceased.
2) To catch aggression
Aggressive interactions between/among specimens are sometimes very fleeting, though still potentially stressful or injurious to the weaker/weakest one. If you suspect a specimen is being bullied, it may take several minutes of simply observing the community to catch the aggressor in the act. It’s best to do this from a seated position some distance away from the tank so the fish lose interest in you (assuming a meal isn’t forthcoming) and go back to their normal interactions.
It may also be necessary to observe the tank at different times of day. For example, a brief, intense squabble may arise right after lights out between two fish trying to claim the same nighttime resting spot.
3) To spot sickness
Disease symptoms aren’t always as obvious as white spots, bulging eyes, or rotted fins. It sometimes takes a very discerning eye to note the barely discernible changes in behavior or physical condition that manifest themselves during the early stages of disease. But if you tend to spend a lot of time observing your aquatic charges, you’ll be more likely to pick up on subtle changes right away, and then you’ll be able to intervene with treatment (if necessary) in a more timely fashion.
4) To ensure everyone is eating
Another good reason to do your daily headcount at feeding time is that it will also allow you the opportunity to make sure all the specimens are getting something to eat and not being outcompeted by more assertive specimens or simply refusing the foods offered.
When I say “make sure all the specimens are getting something to eat,” I mean just that. Watch to ensure that each fish is actually taking food in its mouth and consuming it—not just chasing the food without eating it or taking the food in and spitting it back out.
Allow me to explain why I’m emphasizing this seemingly obvious point: Recently, I was extremely busy with work and paying little attention to my fish at feeding time. I noted that they would all come out eagerly and chase down the food when it was introduced, but what I didn’t realize was that my Niger triggerfish, despite actively pursuing the food, was not actually grabbing any of it. When I finally caught on to this, it soon became apparent that the trigger was going blind. Shortly thereafter, it perished.
Had I not allowed myself to become so distracted, I could possibly have detected the problem much earlier and isolated the trigger for treatment and targeted feeding. I can’t say for sure whether it would have made a difference with respect to the blindness, but it may have.
5) Because you’ve earned it!
Last but certainly not least, you should spend time observing your fish because, hey, you’ve earned it! A beautiful, thriving marine community is your reward for a lot of hard work and money invested in setup, cycling, stocking, and so forth. You deserve to enjoy it!