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There was a time when the keeping and study of exotic fish was the preserve of serious researchers closeted in their laboratories; today, it is an established and popular hobby. Dealerships and specialized sales areas in large stores are springing up everywhere, paralleling an explosion in the number of public aquariums and books or magazines devoted to the subject. More and more people of all ages are falling under the spell, enjoying permanent access to a part of the natural world that was formerly beyond their reach. There are almost as many kinds of hobbyists as there are types of fish: the semiprofessional, the "small" and the "modest" collector, the specialist. There are the fanatics, who spend every minute of their time and energy on their aquariums, while for others fishkeeping is just a passing fad. Enthusiasts include the young - and the not so young; those with scientific knowledge or mere novices; those actively working and the retired. Such an immensely varied following guarantees that the world of the aquarist is full of interest and color.


We have all become familiar with how our television screens offer us, from the comfort of our living rooms, a small window onto the wide world outside. An aquarium also provides a glimpse into a different universe - but this time inhabited by real, live creatures.

A lot of thought and work goes into a top-class aquarium. We select the best site, we want fish and decor which satisfy our sense of beauty. Before long, our new purchase has relegated to the background our photos, pictures and even the TV.

The last ten or so years have seen the aquarium come into its own in institutions and public buildings. In educational establishments it represents an important teaching aid, enabling students to observe creatures in conditions resembling their natural habitats. The medical profession has likewise realized its benefits. The fish gliding through their silent, predominantly green world in a kind of underwater ballet are the perfect sedative for nervous patients; it is by no means unusual to come across tanks in the waiting-rooms of doctors and dentists, in physiotherapy rooms, hospitals, and indeed in psychiatric clinics. More recently, aquariums have been introduced into prisons.


Keeping fish contributes to the development of scientific research into aquatic environments, and is relevant to the study of animal and plant biology, ecology, reproduction, feeding, and behavior. Researchers use some species to test the toxicity of pollutants or suspected pollutants.

Aquaculture or fish farming - the production of living creatures with the principal aim of selling them as food - has features in common with fishkeeping. In both cases, it is a matter of maintaining fish in captivity and encouraging them to reproduce, always under the best possible conditions. The use of aquariums has allowed us to improve our knowledge of, for example, the breeding of marine larvae destined eventually for human consumption. It can also aid the preservation of species threatened with extinction for various reasons; we can study their behavior and reproductive methods with the aim of rearing young which can be released into their natural habitats.

On the other hand, aquarists are regularly accused of being party to the destruction of certain environments.

The fact is that though the vast majority of freshwater fish kept in aquariums are the result of captive breeding, the same is not true of marine fish, which are caught mainly in their natural habitats. The numbers taken are out of all proportion to the needs of aquarists owing to unsatisfactory conditions of capture and transport. For every marine fish which arrives alive in an aquarium, how many have died as they were being caught - often in a highly questionable manner - or during shipment or in the course of acclimatization? In this sense, the accusation is justified. The only solution is to impose stricter controls and improve techniques so that the number of fish caught to supply aquarists remains within a safe limit.


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