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One Fish, Two Fish. Dead Fish, No Fish.

Jacob Cox '20

Guest Writer


It was 4 p.m. on a Wednesday in October when roommates Hailey Donald ‘23 and Alex Chapman ‘23 returned to their room with two new soaking-wet roommates. Schmitty, a tetra fish, and Chaz, the panda molly (nicknamed Gowan). Unfortunately, only two hours later on that same Wednesday, both fish were pronounced dead.


Despite Donald and Chapman’s efforts to purify the water with pH regulating drops—which they bought with the fish—the cause of death was excess acidity in the tap water at Randolph-Macon. When asked how they had prepared the water before transferring the fish from the store’s provided bags to their new home, Donald confirmed that they had “used pH regulator drops because the water here is so acidic, but even the recommended amount wasn’t enough to purify [the water], so that’s why they died.”


Donald never specified how long they allowed the water to purify before they introduced their new little fishy friends to their new little fishy home. Unfortunately, this proves to be a gravely important detail for the survival of their next fish.


In order to learn more about fish and the conditions they require for living, I contacted the store Donald and Chapman purchased their scaly companions from: PetCo. The representative available informed me that pH regulating drops are recommended to all first-time buyers when purchasing a fish, which explains why Donald and Chapman were aware of and had used them.

However, the drops are also known not to be effective with all sources of water. PetCo recommends Imagitatirum, a tap-water-conditioner, which is part of the store’s (brand) products for fish care. Additionally, I was told that any product should be allowed to sit in the water for a full two hours prior to any fish being transferred in it.


Learning about the extensive process for purifying water in which fish could live made me curious about exactly what it is in our water that is so harmful to them in the first place. This issue also begs the question whether or not the water on campus may further be harmful for human use, too. Charles Saunders, or ‘Professor Chee,’ Professor of Geology at R-MC, clarified that the college uses city water from Richmond. Based on this information, I researched drinking water quality in Richmond, Virginia, and found an annual report that includes data about the types of substances found in the area’s drinking water.


Richmond’s 2018 Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) concludes that the state of Virginia is “100 percent in compliance with all federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act MCLs.” But this does not necessarily mean that the water is safe for fish to inhabit. The CCR also states that chemicals such as chlorine, pesticides, and herbicides were found in drinking water, although in small quantities. While these do not pose a threat to the human immune system, their presence in the tap water of Hanover county could very well explain the deaths of Schmitty and Chaz.


For anyone looking to buy a fish for their dorm, remember that there is a lot more to owning a fish than just the fish itself. First, you will need to make the investment in tap-water-conditioner, whose price varies: the standard bottle is $6.49 and the larger one costs $12.49. Then, depending on the size of your fish, you will need either a small or large tank, neither is cheap. Obviously, you have to purchase food for your fish and regularly feed it—typically on a daily basis. And, of course, you should not let your fish live in a tank without rocks or additional items such as

abandoned ships to swim in and around! While all of this combined may seem expensive for a pet that is, in theory, less than $5, remember that, without these elements, your fish likely will not last more than two hours. Like all pets, fish require attention, even if you will not be taking them for walks. Matt Howard ’20 claims to have spent upwards of $75 on necessities when he purchased a fish for his room last February. “After the tank, bed rocks, little toys for him and food plus the purifying solution, I ended up spending a lot more than I anticipated, but it was so worth it,” he said.


Last week they refilled their tank, purified the water for two hours, and drove to PetCo to replace Shmitty and Chaz with Shmitty 2.0 and—you guessed it—Chaz 2.0! Named after the girls’ favorite Biology Professors at R-MC, Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Gowan, their namesakes have a prestigious legacy to follow. Hopefully this time they get a more time to establish themselves in the history of fish pets at Randolph-Macon College.


Only three days after the purchase of their new fish, Donald and Chapman proudly announced: “Hey, our new fish are still alive now, so we’re doing something right!” Yet again, trial and error helps guide the way for learning young adults.

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