I’m a tidy autistic. Compared to most of my friends, my home is uncannily organized; my routines are rigid and often inflexible. When I last moved house, my new home was 90% unpacked within the first week and firmly lived-in by the end of the first month, thanks to packing my previous home with destination rooms in mind and having a new floor plan for my furniture worked out in PowerPoint a month before moving day. With tape measures, notes, and detailed pro/con analyses, I worked out the best places for my sofa, television, display cases, desk, aquaria, and each individual houseplant, along with which new items to order and where those would go. Waste is sorted immediately and removed on a schedule, and cups never accumulate away from the drying rack. Mess makes me anxious and staying on top of these things is both a gift for and the result of my executive function, not done for others but to keep my home liveable for me. I pride myself on that level of masterful order and accept the neuroticism that comes with it as the price of success.
If you’re building a marine aquarium and the thought of putting an octopus in it crosses your mind, consider not doing that. Consider not doing that so hard that you put this ill-conceived notion to permanent rest, no matter how much fun Finding Dory made it sound. An octopus makes for a difficult, finicky, and potentially even dangerous marine-aquarium inhabitant, best left to nature and specialists.
Earlier this year, I gave a presentation at Ottawa Skepticamp 2013 titled “Skepticism in the Aquarium Store.” It definitely got some smiles out of people, not least the radio host who interviewed one of the organizers about Skepticamp and spied the unusual title. My presentation took the axiom that skepticism is vital to virtually every human endeavor and brought it to one of my dearest hobbies: aquarium keeping. And now I’m bringing that to you.
I like fish. Fish provide a truly astounding variety of shapes, sizes, and behaviors to observe, comparable only to insects. Their diversity puts more conventional pets to shame, and they have the added perks of being confined to specific places in people’s homes, being hypoallergenic, and providing relaxing waterfall background noise. There’s an artistic and collection-building aspect to fishkeeping that isn’t present with other pets, which appeals to me.
One other thing that differentiates fishkeeping from many other pet-related hobbies is that there isn’t really a fishy equivalent to a dog rescue. Sure, one can pick through Craigslist and Kijiji for people giving away their kits or their animals, but that’s a time-consuming and risky method. For better or for worse, fishkeepers are stuck with pet stores, and that means getting stuck with a lot of bad advice. Like car dealers and the slimy cads who sell people fancy audio cables, the underpaid and often unprepared sales associates who staff the fish section often have priorities other than the best life for their livestock.
Aquakeeping, like car sales, treating disease, and politics, is an endeavor that requires a little background and a lot of…skepticism. And it starts right at the beginning.