The Last Voyage of Nemo


We bought Athena a fishtank recently, complete with two fish, which Athena named Gummy and Nemo. Gummy is still with us; Nemo, alas, is not. Athena was upset about this, naturally, but not so upset that she couldn’t memorialize the event on the white board.

Here you see the entire final journey: There’s Nemo (top right), the poor fish in question; moving clockwise we meet The Tank, in which Nemo spent his short life; The Cup, the vessel with which Nemo was transferred from his home in The Tank, and The Toilet, the conveyance which sped Nemo on his way to the afterlife (represented by the headstone, complete with “RIP” on it, in the center of the tableau).

At the far right, you see The Ocean (spelled “oshin,” as Athena sounded it out), which is, Athena believes, the final destination of any detritus that is dropped into our plumbing. In point of fact, our plumbing goes to a massive septic tank buried in our yard, but Athena’s version is more poetic, so we’ll let it go at that. Finally, the inscription and memorial: “Nemo will always be remember(ed) forever.” Or until this Saturday, when Nemo II will undoubtedly be purchased.

In all, Athena handled her first experience with pet expiration well; a little crying, a little sadness, a little sublimation into creative expression. I’d say the healing has begun.

Update, 1/21: Spare a thought for poor Gummy, who apparently couldn’t face life without the beloved Nemo. Gummy has now joined Nemo in the septic tank afterlife. Uh… ocean afterlife, that is. Yeah.

23 Comments on “The Last Voyage of Nemo”

  1. When our daughter was about Athena’s age she also had pet fish. The first two or three times one of them shuffled off this mortal coil, my wife dashed to a pet store to purchase a replacement before Jill could notice. Given the short life span of goldfish in simple glass bowls, my wife soon gave up this attempt to hide the facts of life (death). Our daughter seems to have survived the trauma of the truth. She is twenty-two years old and has a really huge tank in her room filled with an array of exotic looking tropical fish.

  2. I bought my wife some fish to replace her goldfish, which had died after 6 (six!) years. After buying ten or eleven interesting fish, and surprising her with a new tank and other accessories, I discovered ‘New Tank Syndrome’ which kills fish if too many are put in a new tank. Of course, Petland Discounts only mentioned the Syndrome AFTER selling me the fish, tank and everything else. You apparantly have to let the anaerobic bacteria build up in the tank, to keep nitrogen levels low. My wife did not memorialize the event, except to tell people how, to comfort her over her dead fish, I bought her a tank full of fish – of which one died every day for almost two weeks. sigh.

  3. Clearly you haven’t ingested the wisdom of Christie Mellor’s Three-Martini Playdate.

    It details all sorts of pets, and why you shouldn’t get them. It does suggest that you get a fish, because it’ll die, thus demonstrating to the grief stricken tyke the misery of pet ownership. This is only slightly less useful than the section where it tells you to get your kids to offer drinks to guests with the classic follow-up line, “Olive or Twist?”

  4. Of course as I started stocking my tank, I listened to my local pet store owner’s suggestions as to which fish would co-habitate peacefully.

    Imagine my suprise when investigated the source of my son’s frantic cries, only to find that our albino african dwarf toad was eating our Black ghost-knife fish. Apparantly the toad will eat anything that it can fit into it’s mouth, which was only the head of the ghost knife.

  5. Yeah, we had 3 fish, Larry Moe and Curly. Curly went first, then Larry. Then Moe turned out to be Moesha and had 7 babies. Before we could get them separated, Moe had eaten 6 of the babies, or they had died somewhere else. Moe Jr lived for over a year until Grandma overfed him. That was the end of fish. Our daughter was 2 years old at the time and thought nothing of it. She doesn’t even notice that we have no fish tank now.

  6. As we know from the movie, “All drains lead to the ocean.” Yours just takes a little longer, that’s all.

    I recommend a pirhana. They are fairly cheap and incredibly hardy. Since you will only have one the tank stays fairly clean. You may feed them dry food, but feeder guppies, rosy reds, or goldfish are more entertaining. The circle of life and all that.

    You won’t be able to have an algae eater. Don’t consider snails as algae eaters. They seem to be born pregnant, and once you have one in the tank you will never get rid of them.

  7. Ha! You guys are pikers. Let’s talk about cats and dogs.

    My younger kids are 7 and 5. So far, they’ve had to deal with Veronica, the tortiseshell to expired on the floor of the office, Patches, the kitten from the shelter who died in my hands, Vanessa, the 15-year-old cat (vet took care of her); Boris, the adorable 8-year-old felled before his time with kidney disease. Now, they’re getting prepped as Fido’s approaching his end, which will be worst of all, since his back end’s fusing but he’s still a frisky border collie. He’ll be alert right up until the moment we can’t hack carrying an 80-pound dog around and it’s time for the Last Ride to the Vet.

    So far, they’re taking it like Athena; some tears, some pictures, and the pets will resurface in conversation for years to come. But I’m worried about years from now, when I’m feeble and being cared for by my children.

    “Uh, dad, the doctor’s going to give you a shot now. By the way, remember what you did to our pets when we were kids ….?

  8. First of all, I think it’s hysterical that Athena knew “all drains lead to the ocean” from the movie, and John thought it was her “poetic notion.” Classic…

    As for fish stories, here’s a whopper: My son was 2 years old when we “won” a goldfish at a local carnival. We splurged the extra $5 for a little bowl & some fish food. That evening, after returning from the carnival, we taught him how to feed the fish some food, then we took him upstairs for his goodnight book and “tucking in.”

    When we came back downstairs (20 minutes, tops…) the fish was floating. Unbelievable.

    When he asked the next morning, we told him the fish was sick and we had to bring him back. I think he was too young to understand then, since he just said “OK” and moved on. Now, he’s 4 and has already asked where you go when you die, etc..

  9. “First of all, I think it’s hysterical that Athena knew ‘all drains lead to the ocean’ from the movie, and John thought it was her ‘poetic notion.'”

    Well, obviously, I knew where she got it from. I’m just saying that the idea is more poetic than “all drains lead to the septic tank.”

  10. When I worked my second job ever–at a pet store–I scrupulously explained the bit about New Tank Syndrome to customers who were buying freshwater tanks. (It’s the same thing for salt water tanks but you need to let your live rock prepare the water. For freshwater tanks, I recommend feeder goldfish.)

    Carnival goldfish are always feeder goldfish. They aren’t hardy in the slightest–it was one of the grimmer morning chores that you had to go through the feeder tank and sift about fifteen or so dead floaters before opening the store. They come in giant styrofoam boxes delivered in the mail, and there’s usually about three or four dead in every bag of 100 that you open up. They really only serve two purposes–feeding other, more carnivourous fish, and running through tank setup. They CAN survive as long as a couple of years though, but it’s like a special fish lottery.

    (One of the other grim, but still insanely fascinating tasks was feeding feeder fish to the lionfish in the saltwater tanks. The lionfish gulp them whole and you can see the feeder fish through the lionfish’s translucent skin.)

    Fishy recommendations: Bettas. I’ve had pretty good luck with my bettas. A) They don’t need a full tank setup–bettas, or siamese fighting fish evolved in little rice paddies so they don’t need super-aerated water. (We had people all the time that would accuse us of animal cruelty though, just because they live in the little beta cups in the store.) That said, a little bubbler–not a larger tube that they can swim into, but a bubbler stone on the end of a flexible closed air tube–can help keep their tank cleaner than it might otherwise be, and they will enjoy riding the bubbles. B) A bottle of betta food will last forever. FOREVER. C) Much prettier than goldfish. D) Fairly hardy. I’ve had bettas last as long as five years. One and a half years to two years seems about average. Which is not too bad for a 2.50 fish.

  11. Oh, and encourage Athena mightily in the art department. She seems to have a special verve with the sequential art. (I have a soft spot for baby artists, of course.)

  12. Harold the Giant Gourami(seen here: came home to a 20-gallon tank when I was 11 years old. He survived infrequent tank cleanings when a left for college and a cross-country plane ride when I got married. He died when I was 22 in the middle of the week. I popped him in the fridge and did some “fish prints” (paint dead fish, press on paper) of him before burying him in the back yard.

  13. Hey, TC, how big was Harold? I can’t tell the scale from the photo.

    I am happy to report that Baby Spike (who my daughter named after Spike, and who is female, according to my daugher) is now about 5 inches long and 3.5 inches tall. I think this is about the limit for Pirhana in a 30 gallon tank, but I don’t keep Baby Spike incredibly well-fed, about twenty Rosy Reds a month. She finishes them off in a night or two. I’ve got bottom filters and a bubble line across the back, mostly for looks.

    The original Spike lived to 20 or so, and survived three moves. Spike II is now three. This was all in the same tank which I got soon after college.

    I thought a nice fishtank would provide a ‘romantic glow’ to my apartment, which it did, but the sight of half a goldfish floating by usually put the damper on things. I learned to feed Spike during the week, and Rosy Reds generally go down in one gulp.

  14. Not that anyone really cares, but both pirhana were about the size of a dime when I got them. Baby Spike cost, I think, $7.50. I give her minimal care. And, yes, I have dripped my own blood in the tank. She came out of her ‘cave’ *very* interested.

    I’ve had my non-bleeding hand in the tank with no problem, though. She’s pretty much afraid of it.

  15. I’m getting a beta tody. When I get it, do I put it in my tank right away, or do I let it get yust to the water?

  16. Yes you can put a betta in a new “tank” or bowl right away, provided it has been sufficiently dechlorinated. Contrary to popular belief, bettas do enjoy swimming around, so give the lil guy at least 2.5 gallons to live in, with a plant or two and a decoration or cave. the mini bow 2.5 gallon from all glass aquarium is a good choice

  17. Yes you can put a betta in a new “tank” or bowl right away, provided it has been sufficiently dechlorinated. Contrary to popular belief, bettas do enjoy swimming around, so give the lil guy at least 2.5 gallons to live in, with a plant or two and a decoration or cave. the mini bow 2.5 gallon from all glass aquarium is a good choice


    I just wanted to clear up some common misconceptions about goldfish. The normal lifespan of a goldfish is actually about 25 years, and some have lived to almost 50 years. They ARE naturally very hardy fish, and each juvenile “feeder” goldfish in a pet store would grow to be a foot or more in length if placed in a normal environment. However, when a goldfish is forced to live in a restricted environment, its body releases stress chemicals that limit the size of its own growth, causing “stunting.” No living thing was meant to live in a small bowl, swimming in and breathing its own excrement. The idea is completely preposterous. Sadly, this a VERY common practice and consumer misconception, which is reinforced by many pet stores in this country. Every once in a while, you may find a knowledgeable and honest salesperson who will impart this information, but more often this is not the case. Even with adequate filtration, each goldfish requires 20 gallons of its own water to attain its normal size and lifespan. This is why in some European countries it is actually illegal to keep a goldfish in a bowl. Many Americans may find this law ridiculous, but these are probably the same Amercians who are disappointed by the “fragility” of their goldfish and think that these are delicate creatures that die unpredictably. In reality, the horrendous husbandry and ignorance are what will (very predictably!) kill the fish within several years, or in many unfiltered situations, even several days. Goldfish produce much more waste than the average aquarium fish, which is why they CANNOT survive in unfiltered water. In reality, they are the last fish that should be living in bowls. These are beautiful fish that have been cherished for centuries in other cultures. Their cousins, Japanese Koi, are similar in appearance, and yet these fish can sell for literally tens of thousands of dollars each, and have a potential lifespan of 150 years. That’s right, longer than any human being. Goldfish do not deserve to be treated like disposable tissues, and serious goldfish hobbyists around the world know this. Many well-meaning parents purchase goldfish bowls for their children, thinking that it will teach the youngster how to care for another living thing. Ironically, they are unwittingly teaching the child how to kill another living thing. Please pass it on!

  19. I have twenty five goldfish living in my 3500 gallon pond including 5 Shubunkins and several comets along with the ones people call plain ol feeders. These fish vary in length from about four inches to nine or ten inches. They have been in my pond for about five years now and are quite content. They are overwintered in the pond in a zone 5 environment. Last winter we had about six inches of solid ice covering all but a hole about one foot in diameter to release the toxic gases which inevitebly build up in winter. Outdoor goldfish that die in winter, usually die from the gases and NOT the lack of oxygen that most people think. All in all, I would rate the common goldfish as one of the hardier fish when taken care of properly!

  20. Ditto on the Betas. We’ve had two and both have lasted an average of three years. Also – a great point – you shouldn’t feed them daily, I was told they normally get fed every other day so this works well if you have to go out of town :-)

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