About 18 months ago I acquired a pair of angel fish – both rescues. They were severely bullied in their previous owners’ tanks and each found their way to me separately with badly mangled fins and sores. The two were very fond of each other and quickly bonded as a pair, laying a set of lovely little white eggs (panic set in, I rescued them, I didn’t want to be responsible for their breeding!). However, the eggs never hatched and the pair never spawned again. Angel fish will pair for life with another fish of the same gender if there is not a suitable mate available, and they will even spawn infertile eggs together if they are female.
The two lovely ladies - proudly guarding their eggs
So my two girls lived happily together for about 18 months until the smaller of the two sustained a very bad injury around her eye. It was a tear that reached about three quarters of the way around her eye socket. I have no idea how she did it – I can only assume a fight as these two did get a little temperamental with each other from time to time. It looked extremely painful but I decided to try and medicate her – she recovered from her severe injuries when I first got her, perhaps she would survive this. It was not to be; she died within 48 hours of sustaining the injury.
As soon as she died her mate plummeted into what I can only describe as depression. She sat lifeless at the top corner of the tank and took no interest in her environment for 5 days (although she did eat a little). She was a different fish. The look in her eyes was heart-breaking; she seemed hollow. You may think that sounds crazy, but anyone who has owned an angel fish or similar will know that although their eyes are relatively inexpressive – you can feel them wondering about you when you look in their eyes – you can almost feel their little minds trying to work you out. It turns out, fish are no stranger to depression. Just a short search online found many others talking about their angel fish suffering from depression – and that is just one species of fish. I’ll paste a few of the posts I found below.
On the sixth day I came home to find her bent and twisted; floating at the surface of the water. I’m not very knowledgeable about fish, but this looked like her swim bladder had packed in to me, and I do know that is bad news. I couldn’t bear to think of her sadness – all twisted up in pain and missing her mate desperately. On day 7, with her condition worsening it was time to put her out of her misery. A high dose of clove oil (a sedative to fish) and she was gone – drifted off to sleep, unresponsive within a few minutes. Her gills slowly gave up after about 30 minutes of gently upping the clove oil dose.
My fish died of heart-ache, and it’s something I won't forget any time soon.
It’s certainly something to think about next ‘Fish Friday’.
Some additional info on fish emotions and suffering: