Deep waters


The fish are watching me watching them. Every so often, one or another will come to the corner of the aquarium and look out into the world around my desk and we watch each other, eye to eye. It is a strange feeling, wondering who is the observer and who the observed at such moments…and can we truly draw that distinction?

It is only with the advent of modern technology that we have really had the privilege of looking beneath the waters and watching the piscine world. I remember being spellbound by Cousteau’s undersea adventures as a child, exploring waters I will never see. The rich diversity was breathtaking, but there was not the same intimacy as living with fish and watching them day by day.

Keeping fish is an old, old story. The Roman’s did it, so did the Chinese. Around 50 AD, the Romans first used glass on one wall of their marble tanks in order to keep sea barbel. The Chinese kept goldfish in porcelain bowls. Conditions for the fish, with insufficient oxygen and no water flow cannot have been good. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that fishkeeping began to catch on in Britain and the technology was still too poor to maintain healthy communities of fish.

By the middle of the twentieth century, we had aquarium heaters, filters and electric lighting. Keeping tropical fish became a viable proposition and our understanding of the necessary parameters for water quality, temperature and a diverse ecosystem has grown since then. We have learned how to mimic the natural environment to a point where most aquarium fish are now tank bred; wild-caught fish are frowned upon and many species now extinct in the wild through envronmental changes are preserved only by dedicated hobbyists.

It is a bit of a touchy subject, because the original ‘specimens’ were all wild-caught. Even today, there are still those desperate to get hold of newly discovered species who will pay through the proverbial nose in order to acquire the latest novelty… often long before there is any real understanding of their needs… and the primary need of a wild fish, after all, is to be wild. Novelty is also responsible for the aberrations of the profit-seekers who will chemically dye fish to make these beautiful creatures ‘more attractive’.

Most fishkeepers, though…even the accidental ones like me… are simply fascinated by their beauty and behaviour. Their individual characters soon show themselves. They have a distinct heirarchy, they dance for their mates, they even play games… and for the first time in history we can see these creatures face to face with perfect clarity in an environment as close to nature as any confinement can ever be.

If all they, and generations of their ancestors, have ever known is life in a tank, then their environment will not feel like confinement…it will feel like home. As they look out of their glass boxes at us, comfortably confined with the glass and concrete of the modern home, I wonder if they think the same of us?

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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22 Responses to Deep waters

  1. jenanita01 says:

    I miss having fish as companions. Something very therapeutic about watching and interacting with them on a daily basis. I often wondered what they thought about me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Mine seem quite clear that my purpose on life is to feed them on time… Between Ani and the fish, I am forced to realise how far we have come from having our own inner clock function accurately 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. KL Caley says:

    I didn’t know the history of fish-keeping, Sue. Very informative. We took our little goddaughters to pick some fish for our fish tank this weekend as they are absolutely fascinated by it. The excitement they have when the “cave fish” comes out to eat is hilarious. KL ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. noelleg44 says:

    I loved this post, Sue. We had fish for a while but they required a lot of work in days filled with kids and a ton of other pets. I did often just sit and watch them, wondering what was going on in their little brains.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just have a couple of goldfish now but I still love watching them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    Watching fish is so therapeutic!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jennie says:

    Hmm… Good thinking here.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Widdershins says:

    I wonder how many generations it takes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Sue. You’ve left us wondering. 🙂 — Suzanne


  9. Cherryl says:

    Very interesting post, I remember getting that feeling of being watched when I had fish, and wondering what they found so interesting about me lol!


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