Looking after the pet tropical fish online

When a team of ABI researchers learned of the likelihood of the Stage 4 lockdown they needed to organise, among myriad things, a way to look after their pet fish.

Dyson, an albino longfin bristelnose pleco, one of 30 tropical fish now being cared for remotely.

The ABI’s Biomimetics Laboratory fish tank holds more than 300 litres of water and houses around 30 fish.

“The students wanted the tank, says Professor Iain Anderson, Group Leader. “They also agreed to sharing responsibility for looking after the fish. We have personalised the tank by allowing individuals to choose specific fish, so some of us have our own little finny pet.”

Taking the fish home wasn’t an option, but they needed feeding four times a week, and the tank needed regular maintenance.

Joe Ashby, a doctoral candidate at the ABI, whose research is currently focused on developing a snake-like “squishy” robot for use in space using soft polymer artificial muscle, was one of the Biomimetic Lab team who helped find a solution.

The team have set up a webcam, so they can watch over the fish by Skype.

“Fortunately, in our pre-planning for lockdown we began investigating automating the feeding before the lockdown was confirmed, as I was already self-isolating having just returned from Canberra, and the fish missed a couple of meals,” he says.

“We didn't expect it to happen so fast though, so on the day before we escalated to Level 4, Iain rushed out to the shops and bought not only an automated feeder and extra food, but also a whole new filter as ours has been leaking a little; we didn't want it to fail without us being there to fix it.

“So we calibrated the feeder and swapped out the filters as soon as we got them in the Lab. And [Dr] Chris Walker had the bright idea to set up our old lab laptop with a webcam so we can keep an eye on the tank over Skype.”

After two weeks into the lockdown the team could see from the video that the tank was running well, and the fish seem to be happy. “Particularly at their 10am automated feeding time,” says Professor Anderson.

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