Rich Ross

Holy crap! It seems it would be easy to stop them, what with no legs.

Just a little information TANKED?

From Reefbuilders

This is a video of a big aquarium – doesn’t a little information about how its run and how the animals are cared for make it more exciting?

Like many of us, I have been thinking about the new television show TANKED. The great discussion so far about the show has been really illuminating and taken the reefkeeping community beyond issues like ‘This coral is cool’ or ‘what’s the newest product’ or ‘where do I get the cheapest…’. I think this kind of big picture discussion has been relegated to dusty, quasi philosophical forums with low readership and I think getting some of this discussion out in the open can do nothing but  befefit the hobby in the long run by forcing more of us to think about issues on the broader stage. The critical thinker in me (ah the Philosophy degree is worth something – see mom and dad!) is also thrilled that hardly any of the discussion I have seen has not degenerated into ad hominem attacks, and that people have been genuinely  playing with the ideas rather than trying to score points. In these respects, I think TANKED has been great for the hobby.

In other respects, I am on the fence about the show. The actual health requirements of the animals used in the episodes get glossed over, and am worried that this glossing may help increase the amount of ‘cut flower mentality’ that many aquarists feel about the animals in their charge. For the most part, fish are cheap and easy to get, so if they die you just get another one. They are semi disposable. This mindset is not just adopted by newbies or the uneducated hobbyist – we are all guilty of it to some degree, and it may even be an inescapable part of our hobby. Mistakes, bad/outdated advice, poor animal handeling, crashes, and dumb luck, almost ensure that we are going to have to replace dead animals unless we leave the hobby completely.  Many in the hobby work very hard to minimize those events for themselves and for others.  Its an uphill battle, and a television show like TANKED, which gives the impression that  ‘insta filled, insta populated’ are normal and accepted, can make those minimization efforts harder.

Some of the discussion about TANKED compares it to other ‘build’ reality shows like American Chopper, where the building exciting and creative projects are the background for family drama. Since motorcycle enthusiasts seem to not worry too much that American Chopper is not mechanically educational, perhaps it is unrealistic to think TANKED should be thought of as biologically educational. This line of reasoning highlights the problem mentioned above – living animals are not equal to mechanical components. A television show giving the impression that a motorcycle can be built in a few days is fine because the worst that happens if someone tries it is that they cant do it, and they end up with a bunch of parts in their garage. However, a television show giving the impression that a saltwater aquarium can be set up in a day  is less fine because the worst that happens if someone tries it is that a lot of animals end up dead.

I do understand that TANKED is entertainment, and that its goal not to educate people about keeping animals in glass boxes of water. At the same time many of us worry about a widely seen television program adding any fuel to the fire that people who are anti marine ornamentals keep trying to start. Our hobby is very visible, and its easy for opponents to point to it and say ‘they are killing animals and hurting natural environments’ even if there are other, more impactful and pressing activities that are killing animals and damaging natural environments. It would be very easy TANKED to make a nod towards education.  It doesn’t have to be long, and could mimicthe 15-30 second Mythbusters ‘Warning; Science Content’ segments – quick educational stuff on husbandry, filtration, the state of the areas the animals come from, and then back to the reality show drama. Such a token educational segment would go a long way to give the impression that the animals involved matter.

I am glad ATM has a show and I wish them much success. I wish also that the show evolves to include a little bit of educational reality about keeping marine animals instead of just cool builds and drama.


Rich is co host of the irreverent Reef Beef Podcast, the podcast that is like hanging out in the conference hotel lounge on Saturday night after the show has closed for the day. See and listen on youtube or any podcast source.

Skeptical Reefkeeping