A goldfish bowl is a glass ornament with an interesting symmetry but many problems as an aquarium. Fish in a bare bowl cannot conceal themselves from staring eyes outside the bowl or shelter from other fish within it. They cannot satisfy their natural instinct to search for food or to swim into crevices and explore. Monotony extends in every direction around them and all their lives they can only swim in circles.
The goldfish is one of the most common aquarium fish and an example of what can happen to any fish kept in bowls. The Chinese bred goldfish from carp over a thousand years ago and housed them in large earthenware pots, but many people today stick their goldfish in glass bowls. Goldfish are reputed to live for decades, but 'bowled' goldfish may end up as inert flotsam from water pollution, lack of oxygen and even boredom.
A bowl incorporates lethal dangers. Fish release waste into the water making their bowl painful and fatal to live in. The surface of the water has a small area and not enough oxygen dissolves into the water from the atmosphere. In addition, when the water is exposed to sunshine it can get too warm. The warmer the water, the less dissolved oxygen it has for the fish to breath. Fish are slowly poisoned and suffocated. Artificial life-support systems are difficult to maintain in a goldfish bowl.
Goldfish hate bowls. Hand colored lithograph, mid-19th century, E B & E C Kellogg.
Goldfish are social animals and should not be kept as singletons. All goldfish in a tank need lots of water plants to hid in and search and to aerate the water, plus a gravel substratum for rooting about. A minimum starting point for very small goldfish is a rectangular tank of at least 60 x 30 x 30 cm (24 x 12 x 12 inches). For five of so goldfish each measuring up to 20 cm (eight inches) long, a tank with minimum dimensions of 100 x 50 x 50 cms (40 x 20 x 20 inches). Better still a deep garden pond is roomy, and essential for more and bigger goldfish.
All that some fish-keepers may really want is a pretty ornamental bowl and not all fish store staff are conscientious and well informed about the fish they stock. So every year fish shops sell endless numbers of bowled fish and untold fish die. Bowled fish cannot tell you their requirements, but we can be conscientious, knowledgeable and observant about their needs.
Goldfish are little'ns, but let's not forget them; they are still subjects of a life. And what about birds and guinea pigs in cages and pet rabbits never released from tiny hutches?
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