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Letter: Student critical of school's fish education

I am a senior at Superior Senior High School. March 27 this year is the day where underclassmen share their science projects to upperclassmen to grade. This fair is a great tool for students to learn about science and try their own experiments that they are interested in. For an idea to be approved, it must go through the student's teacher before worked on.

In the 10th grade, biology is a required class, and I will be talking about what I saw from the biology students. I will give no names because this is not to attack students, I am writing this to show poor education and learning on behalf of the teachers.

The first project I want to talk about is one where the students wanted to test if you could train a goldfish. Though already proven, this could be a fun experiment for students to learn about fish and their learning.

Firstly, the way to train the fish was using a bell. The sound waves from the bell cannot be translated into the water unless it was in the water. The teacher should of picked up on that first; a visual cue is much better for aquatic species.

Secondly, the students doing the experiment kept the goldfish inside of a small fish bowl at room temperature presumably with no filtration though I have no proof of that. They recorded the temperature at 54 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what a goldfish should be kept at during the winter; the problems come with the size and filtration.

I have no idea what type of goldfish it was; they kept absolutely no record of fish (all the details of the "tank" is from their words). They said they got it from Walmart, though, and judging from that I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they got the smallest type of goldfish: the common. In general, a common goldfish should be given at least 30 gallons of water with high amounts of filtration just for a single fish at the minimum.

I will assume that the bowl they used was 2 gallons because it is a common one I see at Walmart; this "tank" will most likely have no water movement.

Water movement is detrimental to proper gas exchange which oxygenates the water. Goldfish are not labyrinth fish (which are fish that are able to get oxygen from the air) and get their oxygen from the water.

They are also messy eaters and require high amounts of filtration to stop ammonia from climbing up in the water, which will kill the fish.

The next project I was unable to ask about, so I do not know the complete specifics about, but just the idea for the project alone should of been a huge red flag. The project was attempting to acclimate two males bettas into living with each other.

Bettas are also known as "Siamese fighting fish;" they do not like others of their own species. In the wild, they will flare up to each other and leave. Flaring is where the male will puff out their gills to intimidate their foes. In captivity, daily flaring exercises will help the betta and get their blood running.

Though this is healthy, this exercise should be short and not continuous. The act of flaring itself is not stressful, but doing it over and over will stress the fish out. These students, over the course of days, kept putting two bettas closer and closer to each other. This stress of another male slowly approaching them is strenuous and can severely impact their health and leave them open to diseases.

The teachers who approved these projects should know better. They are biology teachers; this should be what they know. If a student does want to do an experiment dealing with intervals of flaring or training fish, they teacher should allow it, but only if the student can properly take care of the fish, if not at home, then in the classroom.

The goldfish should be put inside of a 30-gallon tank and bettas should be in a 5-gallon isolated, at least. More is better for size.

This fair should be teaching these students about the animals they want to learn more about, not letting them abuse them. I believe this all stems from the fact that people believe that fish do not have any feelings, but that is completely false. I would go over it more but the book "What a Fish Knows" by Jonathan Balcombe explains it in more detail than I ever could.

I write this to let the public know that at their local high school, projects with possible abuse of animals are being approved. I do not wish to stop animal-related learning, but it must be done ethically.

Bryce Mattson