NATHAN Hill

Keep­ing stingrays is a niche fas­ci­na­tion, for sure. And de­spite the ad­vent of prodi­giously big­ger tanks – and big ideas – it’s prob­a­bly best if it stays that way…

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Opinion -

Are stingrays tank­busters? the fresh­wa­ter ones, i mean. i’ve been brood­ing on it since i read Dave Wolfenden’s (re­ally good) fea­ture on them on page 82 this month. and, more­over, will i end up alien­at­ing read­ers if i say that they are? i guess that’s a risk that comes with the ter­ri­tory of for­mu­lat­ing my thoughts.

Many suc­cesses

i re­call a dis­cus­sion that came up with an avid stingray fan a while back. He couldn’t un­der­stand why fresh­wa­ter stingrays were be­ing classed as tank­busters at all. His rea­son­ing was that so many folks are keep­ing them suc­cess­fully – and not just keep­ing them, but breed­ing them as well.

now i can’t deny that stingrays are be­ing bred in prodi­gious num­bers. But i won­der if this stingray fan was con­fus­ing what makes a tank­buster? it’s new to me to clas­sify a tank­buster as a fish that doesn’t breed read­ily in the home aquar­ium.

Breed­ing ac­tiv­ity doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily cor­re­spond to wel­fare at all, of course. i’ve known of many fish that breed in less than op­ti­mal con­di­tions. in my pub­lic aquar­ium days, our indige­nous ray tank was a hor­rid and prim­i­tive thing, with barely func­tion­ing un­der­gravel fil­ters and con­stant wa­ter qual­ity woes. Could we stop them breed­ing in there? Could we heck. ev­ery morn­ing we were net­ting out eggs and ba­bies.

as for the claim that peo­ple are keep­ing them suc­cess­fully, i’d be in­clined to leaf through the dic­tionary and see if we’re us­ing the same def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess. is mere sur­vival suc­cess? i guess for some it is. But is it suc­cess to have a fish in a tank not even as wide as its own disc? in a tank where to turn around is a chore? i’m not sure we’d be read­ing from the same page with such a claim. For me, suc­cess would be see­ing stingrays be­hav­ing as they would in the wild.

Good in­ten­tions

in the hobby, for the best part, the stingray phe­nom­e­non has been left well alone. the col­lec­tive of stingray keep­ers – there are many stingray keep­ers – are a breed apart from most ‘lay’ aquar­ists.

no­body buys a stingray by ac­ci­dent or on a whim – they’re too ex­pen­sive for that. Most stingray keep­ers do seem to have good-sized tanks. some have even set up in­door pseudo ponds – large bodies of wa­ter with three bricked and lined sides and maybe a glass panel at the front.

there are more large tanks now than there have ever been. i see im­ages of folks shar­ing their cus­tom pur­chases, hulk­ing great lumps of glass on welded metal stands. i see peo­ple ac­tu­ally re­search­ing the fish be­fore they buy them. they post on so­cial me­dia, visit fo­rums, watch videos.

it feels like evo­lu­tion of the hobby. a hand­ful of aquar­ists who have grown fat on nano tanks are pu­pat­ing, emerg­ing as new crea­tures with fresh ideas. as nano de­clines, the big tanks grow, in all senses.

i pre­fer to ob­serve and re­flect the in­dus­try, rather than make procla­ma­tions about it. and my ob­ser­va­tion is that the stingray keep­ers seem to be sail­ing a pretty good ship. With the ever-present ex­cep­tions, they care and in­vest in their fish, and in no half-hearted man­ner. the fish are tro­phies, for sure. all dan­ger­ous fish have a tro­phy qual­ity about them, and stingrays have the power to kill. But these tro­phies are also pretty. and pricey.

that’s the real dif­fer­ence, i think. the clas­sic tank­busters were ‘throw­away’ fish. Cheap. Dis­pos­able. a stingray is any­thing but. Maybe they’re not tank­busters af­ter all. Maybe there’s some­thing to be said for be­ing a tro­phy fish...

Stingrays in an in­door pond.

Nathan Hill is Prac­ti­cal Fishkeeping mag­a­zine’s as­so­ciate ed­i­tor, biotope fancier, aquas­cape dab­bler and part-time ama­teur skate­boarder.

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