more than 4,000 years, men and women have kept fish, first in ponds and later in tanks.
The earliest known fish keepers were the Sumerians, who as long ago as 2500 B.C.
kept fish in ponds and used them as food.
Many other ancient cultures, awed by the beauty, speed and agility of animals such as fish and birds, considered them to be sacred. For instance, the ancient Egyptians bred certain species of fish specifically for their beauty and decorative characteristics. Pictures of fish are found in frescoes in Egyptian tombs, showing them as a sacred object. Roman merchants were known to keep freshwater fish to sell as food in public aquariums.
The first known formal study of fish was conducted by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Studying their structure and other characteristics, he carefully recorded accurate information on 115 species of fish then living in the Aegean Sea. Today, scientists have classified more than 20,000 species of fish around the world.
While goldfish, or carp, are often associated with Japan, they were actually first bred for their beauty and color in China more than 1,000 years ago. Goldfish were first exported to Japan around 1500, becoming an instant sensation. By the late 1600s, goldfish were brought to England, and over the next century became very popular in ornamental lakes and ponds throughout the country. Goldfish were commonplace in America by the mid-1800s.
It was around that time, in fact in 1853, when the world's first public aquarium opened in Regents Park in London. Over the next 15 years, similar public aquariums opened throughout England, as well as France and Germany.
|Unfortunately, many of these
aquariums did not survive because their fish didn't. But by the
early 1870s, aquarists had learned more about aeration, filtering
and water temperature, and new aquariums opened and thrived.
Interest in fish came of age in the U.S. at the same time. In 1856, the government established what is today the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The very first entry in the government's catalog was a "sucker" (Catostomus hudsonius), recorded on December 15, 1856. Perhaps this is why P.T. Barnum is famous for allegedly saying "There's a sucker born every minute," as it was Barnum who opened America's first public aquarium that very year.
The next 50 years saw a virtual explosion of interest in fish and their environments. Such famous institutions as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (1885) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (1903) were established during this period, many of them offering large aquariums for public viewing.
Today, fish are America's second most popular pet, trailing only cats but outnumbering dogs. More than 7.4 million U.S. households (including, if you look closely, that of Agent Mulder on the TV series The X Files) have aquarium fish, and that figure doesn't even include goldfish in bowls!
Scientific advances throughout the 20th century have made aquarium keeping easier and more convenient than ever. Better tanks, improved filters and oxygen pumps, and a balanced diet of nutritious food enable fish to thrive in aquariums - just as they did in the ponds of Sumeria more than 4,000 years ago.
ęCopyright 1999 Warner-Lambert Company