In our previous installation with regards to Mr. Wong, we took a look at some of his existing collection of butterflyfish in his home aquarium. Today we’re stepping into a time machine to explore some of Mr. Wong’s fish that he has had the opportunity to keep in the past, and by past we mean decades ago. Therefore we’re swapping out “Throwback Thursday” for something a little more appropriate. #TimeTravelThursday back to the past as we flip through some of these old photos from the film era!
For many old reef veterans, the hobby of decades past holds a special place in their hearts. I’m only 22 and so I don’t have much personal experience in this front, but some of my fondest aquarium memories were of my dad tinkering with his office marine aquarium. The choices of fish back then was lacking, and so was quality information. Much of the literature today stems from personal experiences handed down by pioneering generations, and even then these masters are still inventing new things.
I remember quite clearly one day as I was coming home from school, still in my uniform. My dad picked me up and took me to his office. I saw that he had bought three new fish, and they were small, elongated and were coloured in the most beautiful shade of scarlet. Each of them had three vertical pearly white bands and I was nothing short of captivated. As I sip my cup of nostalgia tea and remember that day, I now realise that those were juvenile Coris gaimard, and that they’d one day grow into their destructive and pugnacious adult form.
Everyone has their own story, and for Mr. Wong, his were digitalised in the form of film photos. After a tour of his house and tanks, Mr. Wong sat me down and gingerly took out a stack of film photos, each covered in a fine layer of dust. These were photographs of his fish from many years ago, some even dating back to the 80’s. It was unfathomable, looking through these photos of fishes that I can only dream of seeing in person. Some of these species are not available anywhere now, and the only way to ever see one would be to go look for it in the wild. Coupled with the heady intoxicating scent of volatile organic compounds from these old photos, I truly felt like I had been transported back in time.
In the film era of photo taking, photos cannot be seen in a handy dandy LCD screen, nor can they be digitally enhanced and edited in a software. Those who are familiar with this will know the heart wrenching pain of realising how bad the picture is, only after it has been developed. The photo above of Chaetodon litus for example, photographed in all its blurry and overexposed glory. Speaking of which, many of these photos are of fish that are now either very rare, or are no longer available to the hobby. C. litus for example, has not been seen in a long time since the hiatus of Easter Island imports. Aquarium favourites from the region such as Centropyge hotumatua and Chrysiptera rapanui, once common fare have sky rocketed to the top of the “want list” for many collectors.
Two other butterflyfish species that were once obtainable but now impossible are Prognathodes dichrous and P. obliquus. The Hedgehog and Oblique butterflyfish are members of the Prognathodes genus, and are distinct from all others in the genus by having a brown base colour with a silver back. Rectangular for P. dichrous, and an oblique patch for P. obliquus. The former hails from Ascension Island, where collection of Centropyge resplendens were frequent and the species, a bread and butter staple. The latter hails from St. Paul’s Rocks, where the main export fish were off coloured “koi” Queen Angelfishes (Holacanthus ciliaris).
In the present, no collection is allowed to be made in both areas, rendering these two butterflyfishes unobtainable. There is as far as we know, only one japanese reefer who still has a living P. dichrous in his collection, and is the survivor of a pair.
Another species common in the wild that has disappeared from the face of the aquarium hobby is Chaetodon sanctaehelenae. The Ascension island endemic like P. dichrous and C. resplendens is no longer available due. In the wild, this species is not rare and is often seen swimming in large groups. In the above photo from 1998, a specimen is seen swimming with Centropyge joculator and Chaetodon declivis, both although common and relatively inexpensive now, were holy grails at that time.
Mr. Wong’s hybrid game is strong, even back in the days. If you had sharp eyes, you might have noticed a Chaetodontoplus hybrid in one of the photos posted earlier in this article. Chaetodontoplus conspicillatus x C. meredithi is a very rare hybrid in the current day, and you can only imagine how many times rarer and expensive it would have been back in the days. Here above, a hybrid Chaetodon butterflyfish is just one of many in his old collection. Because of the low quality and colour cast of the photo, telling what kind of hybrid it is can be a little bit difficult, but C. auriga x C. vagabundus is not improbable.
Here’s another hybrid he once had, but unlike the previous one, this one is a little more straight forward. The faint crosshatch markings, a crown on the nape and orange back suggests genetic input from C. xanthurus, and the vertical maze like bands could come from Chaetodon punctatofasciatus. This is of course, only an educated guess. In the previous article we saw a similar hybrid, but one involving the close sister of C. punctatofasciatus – C. pelewensis. Like this one above, it also has genetic input from Chaetodon xanthurus, and that specimen is still alive swimming in Mr. Wong’s home aquarium.
For more photos of Mr. Wong’s film picture collection, check out the gallery below. Undoubtedly Mr. Wong had a lot more photos, hundreds of them. But we only took photos of some of the more interesting ones. Check out that aberrant Moorish Idol, and the other hybrid butterflyfish as well! What’s your fondest memory from the past? What were you doing in the 80s or 90s?