Petsmart fishes for gold at the Olympics … and fails

It’s a safe bet that on July 29th some of you were watching prime time Olympics coverage on NBC. And if you happened to be watching right around when Dana Vollmer got her gold for the 100-meter women’s butterfly, you might recall a cutaway to a Petsmart commercial.

“25th Anniversary 2-Day Sales Event: Select Tropical Fish: 5 for Just $4!”

It just seemed so wrong. One minute we’re being regaled with world class swimming, the next some big box pet shop is riffing on the water theme with a tacky ploy to put cheap tropical fish in a tank.

Don’t get me wrong; I really, really love fish. Trouble is, I really, really hate to see fish in tanks –– mostly, anyhow. Though I’ve worked and studied in aquariums and know exactly how great these places can be when they get it right, I can’t get past how the vast majority of our ornamental piscine species get treated in captivity.

Here in Miami it’s been a thorny issue ever since our Marlin’s ballpark debuted its tanks-as-mural aquarium installation. The fish here are displayed in showstoppingly colossal tanks that ring the field.

Which is gorgeous.

The issue raised in the aftermath of opening day, however, was what happens when the tanks are inevitably concussed by baseballs? Clearly that’s super-stressful to the fish. I mean, animals fine-tuned to the minutest watery vibrations are unlikely to consider the colosal smack a nearby baseball anything but the toll of impending doom.

Sure, their digs are to die for and, heck, they’re fish-brained so they can’t process it too deeply anyway, but still …

OK so by now you’re thinking I’m some sort of kooky fish freak with an animal rights agenda on par with PETA. But while I’ll confess to harboring an especially soft spot for fish welfare under certain in-captivity conditions (can ya tell?), I have no problem eating them.

While we can argue the merits and pitfalls of how fish are killed for our consumption, wild fish or farmed fish serve a distinct purpose and are not made to endure the vagaries of home aquarium conditions for the sole purpose of decorating our lives. So, too, does the Miami Marlin’s stadium thing rub me the wrong way.

(Consider: My hometown team’s named after a fish people enjoy inflicting pain upon for the purpose of a good chest-thumping, a couple cool pics and an excuse to get drunk. So can you blame me if I've got a bugaboo about the fish-in-the-field thing?)

But back to the Petsmart issue, if I may …

When I really get to thinking about why that ad made me want to scream it didn’t come down to how many of those fish would find their end belly up in a tacky seventies’ style tank sporting Day-glo gravel. Instead, I realized that what irked so jarringly here was not so much fish welfare as the insensitivity to animal life this ad so glibly conveyed. 

Because with this simple spot, Petsmart effectively managed to turn the elation of an Olympic moment into a troubling reminder that animal life is not only for sale, but that it can be had for almost nothing.

Tivo, anyone?


Title pic: Clown Fish by puliarf's photostream in Flickr