Animal Planet’s “Tanked” Controversy
Animal Planet has two shows that deal exclusively with exotic pets. Fatal Attractions produces piercing criticism towards people with large and dangerous pets. The newer, much more light-hearted reality program, Tanked, features the day-to-day chaos and humor at Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, the professional aquarium builders based in Las Vegas. Tanked is a show that might have sounded, due to its title, fated to fail. However, this clearly isn’t the case as the show has been picked up for more seasons (there have been five so far) and consumes a large portion of the network’s airing time.
Education vs. Entertainment
Unlike the pets in Fatal Attractions, save for some venomous species, fish are not dangerous and stay permanently contained to their aquatic enclosures. This is exactly why utmost care must be taken to stock an aquarium appropriately.
Animal Planet (its motto is “surprisingly human”) has received criticism from fans over changes to the network. The once educational and animal-oriented shows have now been swapped with sensationalistic and rapidly-paced reality TV that focuses more on humans. Animals are now portrayed as villainous when they attack humans. The network also covers silly mythical creatures like mermaids, dragons, and Bigfoot. Tanked seems to be a good example of this with a format similar to Pimp My Ride.
Common Criticisms of Tanked
- Fish are seemingly added to a tank as soon as it is filled with water.
- Tanks are given no time to mature.
- Tap water is added to aquariums.
- Tanks with no live rocks.
- Too many fish/overcrowding in tanks.
- Questionable environments.
- Improper handling of fish.
Typical staged humorous antics that are a trademark of this particularly noxious (but unfortunately engaging and entertaining) type of programming are prevalent in the show. This alone is not an issue. While the program uses editing magic to fabricate its own reality, it is glossing over the very real hobby of animal husbandry and the harvesting of extremely delicate species. This has a real impact on real life animals. The fact of the matter is that Animal Planet hasn’t been too kind towards the topic of keeping larger exotic pets. The network seems to question the sanity of the now deceased pet owners. Yet the network now actively promotes a reckless approach to a popular exotic pet hobby (yes, marine fish are exotic pets) with an undeniably high mortality rate.
Live Animals as Décor
Fish, like all animals, have physical and psychological needs. They can become stressed (often fatally) if their environment does not meet these needs. Fish (of which most in the show are from the ocean) vary in their behavior. Some are open water swimmers and others may be more sedentary or slow-moving (benthic), forging on rocks or waiting for their prey to come to them. Yet to most people, a fish is a fish.
They are obviously not interactive pets, nor are they often viewed as companions. Fish essentially serve the purpose of being living ornaments. As such, they are prone to end up in the hands of owners who lack experience or the willingness to commit to a higher standard of care. The death of a fish is not often seen as a need for husbandry improvement, but as a need to buy a replacement animal.
Some Higher Maintenance Species Featured on the Show
Black tip reef shark
Port Jackson shark
Some Good Aquarium Forums to Join
- Reef Central Online Community - Powered by vBulletin
This site is massive with many sub-forums covering a wide variety of topics.
- Nano-Reef.com - The source for saltwater nano reef aquarium information
The place to be if you are interested in tanks from .5 gallons (pico reef) up to 40 gallons. Warning, avoid the jerks in the 'lounge' forum.
- Monster Fish Keepers
The place to be if you're interested in sharks and other large fish!
What You Should Know About the Aquarium Hobby
Vast knowledge is a prerequisite if the animal is to have a relatively good chance of surpassing 5 years of age, particularly with marine fish. Most of these species are imported from tropical oceans all over the world. Many will die in transport and even more will not live long in aquariums. Species bred in captivity are not common. Only a few have been successfully propagated in controlled environments.
Basically, unless stated otherwise, a marine species has certainly come from the wild. I am a staunch supporter of pet ownership, but facts are facts. Not much is known about how long these fragile animals may live in the wild (they are low on the food chain), but aquariums can be rather harsh environments that fluctuate frequently. The smaller the tank, the harder the water chemistry is to maintain. Even a simple power outage can wreck a delicate tank environment. Things to consider before getting a complex aquarium includes having extra generators and having gallons of extra water on hand.
Shark Tank Issues
Sharks are always popular with people, and only a few species are suitable for home aquariums. Some species can't even survive in large aquariums. Most sharks actually depend on particular swimming patterns to breath efficiently. You can see why issues would pop up with their confinement in a rectangular enclosure.
The tank in the video above is enormous for a home aquarium, yet it is not anywhere near big enough for the black and white tip reef sharks placed in there. The problem with the plan of just donating them when they get bigger is what to do if a facility can't take your pet. Perhaps an aquarium has agreed to take Morgan's fish for publicity, but it is not good to encourage other pet owners to depend on zoos for discarded animals.
Crazy and Unique Tank Designs
Do the unique and artistic tank designs featured in the show meet the needs of the fish? The main objective of the crew of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing appears to be providing their client with amazingly constructed aquariums that are impressive in appearance. Brett Raymer and Wayde King, the brothers-in-law who own the operation, indeed do amazing work, give or take some of the playful tackiness that may turn off more serious aquarists.
However, once the regal tanks are constructed and the fish are added, problems can sometimes ensue. Fish are shown in the program as being selected for their looks and the aesthetic needs of the client’s project. The third episode in the first season had unplanned specimens added just to provide a more dazzling display for the client's planned marriage proposal. This gives the impression that all fish are compatible with each other or comfortable in any tank that’s relatively large.
Many of the stylish designs featured in the show have sufficient gallon amount, but are vertical and slender. One wonders if fish used to swimming horizontally can be affected negatively by these designs.
Setting up Aquariums and Stocking
This is probably the biggest issue that has many aquarists have with the show. Aquariums are indeed like a fine wine in that they get better with age. The longer you wait to add fish to your new aquarium, the better. Aquatic animals are sensitive to changes in the water chemistry. Invertebrates like corals, sessile fan worms, and anemones are even more delicate. While you can get away with immediately adding animals to a tank fairly, it is difficult on them. It is even more taxing if multiple species are added simultaneously.
For decorative purposes, many of the tanks featured in the show are nearly packed to the brim with fish. This is pleasing to the human eye but may be a problem for the animals, especially those that are territorial or non-schooling. There are many rules of thumb for stocking floating around the internet. For small tanks, it is recommended to have only one fish for 10 gallons, with perhaps up the 3-4 small fish in a 20 gallon tank. Stocking will also depend on the specific needs of that species. Schooling fish obviously benefit from the presence of their conspecifics. It is probably a good idea to let open water swimmers have enough room to swim straight without crossing paths with other fish constantly.
Saltwater fish usually need more space and a lower bioload (amount of fish vs. gallons), as too many specimens will produce waste that will result in higher nitrate levels (larger tanks can deal with this problem with efficient protein skimmers.) Freshwater fish can deal with higher nutrient levels a little better. Marine aquarists strongly recommend the use of filtered water, either distilled or reverse osmosis/deionized (RO/DI). Many owners of large aquariums purchase the latter filter, and owners of smaller aquariums often buy this water in stores. So as a novice can see, there is a lot of essential beginner information not presented to viewers of the show. Many other essential aspects of maintaining aquariums are lengthy and exceed the scope of this article.
It is evident that the show is heavily and deceptively edited. They likely omit when the guys perform crucial (but boring) water tests, discussions involving the long-term care of the species chosen, and the intricacies of maintaining and cleaning the aquarium so that they remain presentable and healthy. The show being what it is isn’t the fault of the people featured in it, and their occupation involves giving some very well-off clients exactly what they request. In fact, the first episode had one of the guys explain the importance of adding fish slowly and letting them acclimate to the new tank. I can’t know to what extent, if any, that these builders attempt to persuade their clients to shy away from difficult but often desirable species. The show makes it appear as though Wayde and Brett pick the fish (with the exception of the shark requests), and the client usually has the animals explained to them.
How "Tanked" Can Improve
Tanked has a golden opportunity to turn its success of gaining viewership into providing some education for people looking to get into the hobby of fish-keeping. Brief mentions of some of the things I've mentioned here can be included, either verbally or with little footnotes at the bottom of the screen (right now, this area is dedicated to little titbits about the cast and other on goings.) Animal Planet can provide a website that has an introduction to saltwater keeping, and perhaps a little background on some of the conservation issues involved with the collection of certain species, and advertise the link before the credits. This would be a sound way of acknowledging these relevant issues while not jeopardizing the entertainment value of the show. Remember that fish in your tank can never leave, so be very mindful of this when stocking it.
It would be great if a show that got into the gritty facts of aquarium keeping could be presented on a hobby channel, akin to the shows they have on gardening, in the future.