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Old 11-16-2011, 04:04 PM   #1
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A Story: First Fish in Tank Died Likely Sick When Purchased

(Disclaimer: this is a long read. Below are photo and 2 videos.)

Background: 65g w/20g sump. Day 43. Tank 'officially' cycled last week when nitrites dropped to 0. Understanding the tank still quite new, the nitrates (API test) somewhere between 20-40 ppm. Salinity: 1.025 (actually 33 ppm). Ammonia: 0.

Nov 4th: added a donated hammerhead frag. Very happy and healthy, seems to be thriving. Added also, some donated live rock, small amount of substrate, 2-3 gallons water, and some cinnamon zoanthids that are growing and thriving...and some refugium grown fern caulerpa.

Nov 6th: added some 10 oz. substrate from known healthy reef tank that included at least 5 small feather dusters doing very well.

FIRST FISH: 2 ocellaris clownfish anemone from LFS.

Acclimation: floatation for 30 minutes. Add in 1 cup tank water. Float another 15 minutes, then remove clowns from bag and placed into tank.

Initial Behavior: indicated stress. Clowns stuck together as a 'pair', one much larger than the other. Seemed to seek out most active flow in tank, at first staying in one general area for long periods of time (without exploration) before moving to another area and repeating this behavior. Larger clown always seeming to be in the leaf. Larger clown exhibited non-stop 'panting' ... no so much in smaller clown.

By next morning they were 'settled' and calmer in one open corner area and easily visible. BUT, panting in larger clown was not diminished and he showed no appetite while the smaller obviously hungry.

Pet shop had advised that they might not eat for a "day or two" due to stress. Given those instructions, I was probably not as concerned (and I was) with their behavior - especially the larger one. That also in the context that these were my first tankmates in 40 years (now that's an age giveaway!).

Yesterday, at another LFS (several in my area)....young buut experienced reefaholic and sometimes a 'trusted source' (not now) suggests I get an anemone for the clown. Why? He rationalized that since we did not know the origin of the clowns (tank bred or captured)...and that eating was an issue...must be wild. So, must be that the big guy missed his anemone. Newn that I am...and not having had fish in xyxy years.... I thought, gee...ok, that makes some sense..and the investment is only $20.... But best part for me (and why I bought in), must not have a sick fish! Yippee! Yeah and for $20, I but into not having a sick fish (didn't listen to my gut), got me an anemone (which was not in the master plan) and went home happy.

Today, larger clown obviously very stressed and not looking well but as you can see from the still photo (below) he was not showing any external physical symptoms other than his behavior (that I see).

Called LFS shop. They seem indifferent saying that's the problem with marine fish...suggested hospital tank and treatment with an antibiotic. Logistics an issue here but rushed to put together the tank (all parts here) but did not have enough ro/di and saltwater mixed for the 10g. That said, between the 2.5 gallons RO drinking water on hand, 1.5 g asw , and 3 gallons of ro/di...I threw together the tank and started mixing salt and bringing to temperature.

While doing that, the clown starts to seek a hiding place...sometime later, starts darting around the tank, doing spirals, etc. Looks like a 'death dance' to me...that was my gut never having seen that before.

So, I called another LFS (no one else to call as my main source was unavailable). Head fish dude says (I'm going to paraphrase in quotes): "Nothing to be done without physical symptoms. Don't bother to hospitalize and no point in treating with antibiotics because it must just be 'something internal'. I'd live him in the display tank." Oh, really!

Called back to original store. LFS guy says that once they do that darting around spiral thing, it's over... too late. Pull him and dispose.

Several deep breaths. I do the deed and wish that I knew a more humane method.

Conclusions & What I Learned

  • Fish was sick in store. I just didn't recognize the symptoms. And, letting emotion get the better of me, I forgot to have them feed it in front of me... rule 1. I know the rule. I simply forgot.
  • Trust your gut. If it's not right, it's probably not just a case of new fish tank jitters.
  • Have the quarantine hospital tank ready, even for the first fish unless you are prepared to treat him in the display tank.
  • Take everything you hear from a LFS with a grain of salt. My apologizes to the knowledgeable and ethical LFS guys. I know you are out there, but your reps are spoiled by those eager to say something to make me feel better, sell me something, speak because they feel they need to say something... and for whatever reason cannot man (or fem up) and say, "Gee, not sure. Let me ask. Can I call you back after I research. Ask Bill, Bob, or Jane they would know." Better to be silent and admit ignorance than to say something inaccurate.
Thank you for reading.
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Links to videos. First, (2 hours before burial) shows both clowns, but primarily focused on larger one's behavior. Second, (approx. 45-60 minutes before burial) shows only first clown with cutaway where I was trying to capture Tomini Tang introduce last night. He's out and about now that the sick clown is gone - funny thing that.

Sick Clown 1 of 2 - YouTube

Clown Sick 2 of 2 - YouTube
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Old 11-16-2011, 04:10 PM   #2
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Have a look at your acclimation process. Look on YouTube for drip acclimation, you should acclimate over a period of several hours at least.
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Old 11-16-2011, 04:54 PM   #3
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I'm sorry for your lose...
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Old 11-16-2011, 04:59 PM   #4
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Have a look at your acclimation process. Look on YouTube for drip acclimation, you should acclimate over a period of several hours at least.
In total agreement that drip method is preferred, but do not believe it would have made any difference in this case.

Currently, have a very happy Tomini Tang added last night and the small clown seems bothered by his missing mate but is otherwise looking good.

A side note, on that tang. He went into hiding after discovering his sick tankmate last night. Stayed in hiding until after I removed the gravely ill clown. Wow. If fish could talk.
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Old 11-16-2011, 05:02 PM   #5
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I'm sorry for your lose...

Appreciate your post.

Writing all this out has helped as I have also posted on another forum I visit. And during the course of the past 2 hours, the tang added last night has really lifted my spirits as I was getting wigged out about his behavior.

So, sometimes in loss comes good things... I'm sad about the big guy, but I did the best I knew how for him.

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Old 11-16-2011, 05:22 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by LarryS

Appreciate your post.

Writing all this out has helped as I have also posted on another forum I visit. And during the course of the past 2 hours, the tang added last night has really lifted my spirits as I was getting wigged out about his behavior.

So, sometimes in loss comes good things... I'm sad about the big guy, but I did the best I knew how for him.

All you can do. I've actually lost my whole tank one time and almost gave up. Now ppl compliment me on my tank and one guy even said it looks like I took a slice of the great barrier and framed it... Lol.. So with every lose, there can be reward.
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Old 11-16-2011, 05:25 PM   #7
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All you can do. I've actually lost my whole tank one time and almost gave up. Now ppl compliment me on my tank and one guy even said it looks like I took a slice of the great barrier and framed it... Lol.. So with every lose, there can be reward.
Yep. Well said, thank you.

Hope I'm a lot smarter with the next purchase.
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Old 11-16-2011, 05:28 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by LarryS

Yep. Well said, thank you.

Hope I'm a lot smarter with the next purchase.
Trust me. We are all learning still. I'm still a newbie, but try to learn from the vets. Even the vets need advice. Why we are here to help each other through it all.
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Old 11-17-2011, 12:14 AM   #9
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The fish are very lucky to have an owner like yourself! Very thorough post, and easy to read. Thanks for sharing. I watched the videos but had to stop them early - I don't like seeing them suffer.

A lot of fish deaths occur within a week or so of bringing the new guys home. This can be attributed to: Stress and Poisoning (if it was wild caught).

The acclimation process is very important, not as much so with fish over inverts and corals, but still none the less important. When I first got my clowns, I acclimated the same way you mention above. I didnt have any issues. BUT in saying that, they may have been so stressed going from the wild, to a foreign populated tank at the LFS, and then into their final destination at home (if only we could tell them there won't be any more travel!)

An after thought: the fact that the male is healthy and active leads me to think they weren't poisoned?
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Old 11-17-2011, 12:32 AM   #10
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Im so sorry, especially that you had to see him suffer. Im proud of you, (as proud as a kid can be of an adult, of course! Lol) you did your very best to try and save your fish. If im not mistaken however, the little one is still alive?
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Old 11-17-2011, 11:08 AM   #11
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The fish are very lucky to have an owner like yourself! Very thorough post, and easy to read. Thanks for sharing. I watched the videos but had to stop them early - I don't like seeing them suffer.

Thank you!

A lot of fish deaths occur within a week or so of bringing the new guys home. This can be attributed to: Stress and Poisoning (if it was wild caught).

I'm told by a LFS that 60% of the wild caught die off before getting to the retailer and that nearly 60% of those die off... wow! So, a lesson is that if you are compelled to buy at the LFS, seems wiser to pick over what's been there awhile... they are survivors. Of course, my fear is that they'll 'catch something' at the store. I'm now very nervous about LFS (several in my area) and am more comfortable buying from a serious hobbyist and some on-line retailers that offer guarantees and also do their own quarantine
before resale.


The acclimation process is very important, not as much so with fish over inverts and corals, but still none the less important. When I first got my clowns, I acclimated the same way you mention above. I didnt have any issues. BUT in saying that, they may have been so stressed going from the wild, to a foreign populated tank at the LFS, and then into their final destination at home (if only we could tell them there won't be any more travel!)

An after thought: the fact that the male is healthy and active leads me to think they weren't poisoned?
Hard to know, but the the LFS store where I purchased believes it was a bacterial infection (which certainly could have been stress related). In hindsight, it is clear that at least the larger one was sick when I purchased him - based on the physical symptoms I at first believed was stress only (his panting). The LFS surely knew (he had a very trained eye) there was an issue when selling to me.

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Im so sorry, especially that you had to see him suffer. Im proud of you, (as proud as a kid can be of an adult, of course! Lol) you did your very best to try and save your fish. If im not mistaken however, the little one is still alive?
The worst of the event was not recorded. The feeling of helplessness is always a difficult thing as a caretaker.

Also in hindsight, were it to happen again I would immediately removed him to a hospital tank (I had all the parts, e.g., 10g tank, heater, etc. on hand but not enough prepared ro/di nor pre-mixed asw. That said, I still had no clue what to do for him but getting him out of the DT was definitely the first thing I should have done. Not beating myself up. Just saying that would have been a better thing to do sooner.


Really appreciate the sentiment and support. A great reason to be a part of this community!


P.S.: So, here's the little guy (she calls him Little Nemo)...fingers crossed for him.
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Old 11-17-2011, 05:21 PM   #12
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If you are planning on having a paired set of clownfish, it's best to get another one now, before this guy turns female (they all start male, and the dominant one turns female. Once female, they can't turn back).

Just make sure there is a noticable size difference!
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Old 11-17-2011, 05:29 PM   #13
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If you are planning on having a paired set of clownfish, it's best to get another one now, before this guy turns female (they all start male, and the dominant one turns female. Once female, they can't turn back).

Just make sure there is a noticable size difference!

This helps.... wasn't sure. As luck would have it, leaving here soon to look at a black & white (imagine color is not an issue?) and some other stuff from a reefer breaking down his tank....plan on bringing him home tonight...and the balance on Sunday if I like what he's got.

Your time is right on!
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Old 11-17-2011, 07:32 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by LarryS

This helps.... wasn't sure. As luck would have it, leaving here soon to look at a black & white (imagine color is not an issue?) and some other stuff from a reefer breaking down his tank....plan on bringing him home tonight...and the balance on Sunday if I like what he's got.

Your time is right on!
Color does matter as I had learned. My b&w was smaller then my misbar and the misbar killed it.
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Old 11-18-2011, 01:19 AM   #15
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Have a look at your acclimation process. Look on YouTube for drip acclimation, you should acclimate over a period of several hours at least.

Employed a drip acclimation method with the adoptees added last night.

They are: black & white clown almost identical in size to the Little Nemo survivor and one lone cardinal. The balance of this package to be adopted and acclimated sometime between now and Sunday...will include: yellow watchman goby with paired shrimp, giant feather duster, and royal gramma. And, some cleanup crew.

Photos and video to come... but, so far the 2 clowns seem okay together albeit there is some posturing...will see what they look like in daylight.

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Old 11-18-2011, 01:22 AM   #16
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Employed a drip acclimation method with the adoptees added last night.

They are: black & white clown almost identical in size to the Little Nemo survivor and one lone cardinal. The balance of this package to be adopted and acclimated sometime between now and Sunday...will include: yellow watchman goby with paired shrimp, giant feather duster, and royal gramma. And, some cleanup crew.

Photos and video to come... but, so far the 2 clowns seem okay together albeit there is some posturing...will see what they look like in daylight.

Im so happy for you!!!! What type of cardinal btw? And are these fish ftom the lfs?
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Old 11-18-2011, 01:26 AM   #17
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If you are planning on having a paired set of clownfish, it's best to get another one now, before this guy turns female (they all start male, and the dominant one turns female. Once female, they can't turn back).

Just make sure there is a noticable size difference!
Well, I knnow I went against the rule on this one. Felt compelled to get the 'package' mentioned from a reefer breaking down his tank because his fish were known to be healthy and well cared. The clown comes with the group. Fingers crossed.
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Old 11-18-2011, 01:32 AM   #18
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Im so happy for you!!!! What type of cardinal btw? And are these fish ftom the lfs?
Cardinal is a pj (pajama). Would like to seem him in a school, but have been hearing horror stories of people who bought in sets of 3 and 4 and in each instance there was only one remaining 'killer' cardinal.

So, far.... my guy is hanging with whomever....as though he wants to school.

I wonder....
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Old 11-18-2011, 01:50 AM   #19
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I drip acclimate everything I put in my tank for about 3 hours, might be overkill but I've had no problems. I feel its better than the float process. Nothing wrong with floating, I just prefer to drip. Though I do have to agree with an earlier post that your initial acclimation was too quick and didn't introduce enough of your tanks water. If it was sick or stressed the salinity, ph, or nitrate shock could have sent him over the edge.
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Old 11-27-2011, 10:01 PM   #20
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I drip acclimate everything I put in my tank for about 3 hours, might be overkill but I've had no problems. I feel its better than the float process. Nothing wrong with floating, I just prefer to drip. Though I do have to agree with an earlier post that your initial acclimation was too quick and didn't introduce enough of your tanks water. If it was sick or stressed the salinity, ph, or nitrate shock could have sent him over the edge.

Regarding the float method I employed, naturally it was recommended by that same lfs where I purchased the sick clown.

All the newer additions have been drip acclimated for a minimum of 90 minutes but target 2+ hours which has been working out quite well.

Regarding inverts, I'm getting mixed feedback as to what's required for those guys so I'm playing it safe with drip for now.
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