This fish tale starts, as so many do, with a ping-pong-ball-sized betta fish in a bowl.
Jenna Bourdon's mom gave her a colourful Siamese fighting fish for Easter when she was eight. She named it Sparkles.
Ten years later, she has graduated to two tanks (there was a litany of smaller tanks in between) — one for freshwater fish, one for saltwater.
(She also has a lovebird named Clementine and a tuxedo cat called Princess, but as lovable as they are, they don't have scales or live underwater.)
The 80-gallon freshwater tank is home to Wendell the fire eel (which is really a long fish) and Bobinsky the ornate bichir. In the 35-gallon salt tank live Pinkerton the cleaning shrimp, a sea star, a sea urchin, a few hermit crabs and an emerald crab.
She had 22 other fish, but introduced a new one without quarantining it. It was sick, and all those other fish — including a parrot fish who would swim up to greet to her in the morning — died.
Bourdon admitted there were tears and she still speaks with sadness about it.
"They're like pets. You get pretty attached," she said.
She's not alone in her fishy passion, although Bourdon herself admitted a few years ago, she was "annoying" with her aquatic obsession. Fish were what she talked about, what she did in her spare time and she even worked them into her homework assignments.
In September, the 18-year-old Thompson Rivers University student took out an ad on Kijiji seeking other people to create the Kamloops Aquarist Club. Before the ad had been up one day, she had 10 responses.
The group is now up to 119 members who network on a Facebook page in the club's name. The camaraderie and friendly fish-loving fellowship has been supportive and educational, she said.
"If you like fish, it's the place to be," she said.
"You can ask a question about water chemistry or about what to do about hair algae."
Members range from newbies to breeders, and they trade, sell, buy, and share all things fish related.
Eventually, Bourdon would like to organize a fish show, but realized something like that would be a huge challenge to set up. Moving tanks full of fish and coral and other aquatic life would be an enormous amount of work.
For now, the Facebook group is enough. After all, she has her university studies to focus on. For now, she's taking sciences, but she'd like to end up with a career in — no surprise — marine biology.
The appeal of aquatics is that the tank is like a living blank slate, or white canvas. Add some coral here, coloured rocks in the corner, water lilies on the side, seaweed over there — it's creating a world.
Then the mobile inhabitants get introduced and many of them are bright and colourful: fish, snails, sea urchins, sea stars, shrimp, sponges, crabs.
For Bourdon and her fellow aquarists, there are lessons to be learned with every new fish, new plant, new live added to the tank.
It's a hobby and a passion.
"I don't watch TV," she said.
"I watch my fish. It's really calming. If you have a bad day, it's relaxing to come home and watch them."
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