Lost 6 fish today and don't know why

Jan Cavalieri

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The fish lost were all my genetically engineered colored Tetras. Love the colors. Anyway - my assistant was gone this week due to illness so I had to do 70-80% water changes on both my tanks (one is 50 gallon, the problem one is 29 gallon) - If I haven't mentioned before I'm disabled and on oxygen so a big water change that takes my assistant 1.5 hours takes me about 7 hours due to all the rest breaks.

Here in Topeka Kansas we have a water PH of 9.4. That's what the water report says and that number matches my measurement of the PH of the water out of my tap. Most fresh water tropical fish do OK between 6.5 and 8. My GH is 190ppm and my KH is 95. I really don't pay a huge amount of attention to all that other than I try to buy fish that prefer a 7.0 PH or close to it. I got up and the smell was coming from the smaller tank, which had cleared a little but was still pretty white in color - just taking a mental inventory it seemed all the fish were still swimming but I thought maybe one of my GIANT DoJo's had passed away because no other fish would be able to raise that kind of stink. you can barely see your fish cloudy. It dissipates in about 1 hour and your water is crystal clear. I also use Prime as the water conditioner. My tanks are cycled and have been for a long time. When we mix the Neutral Regulator and Prime we do it FOR EACH BUCKET OF WATER so they all match. I don't want to go pouring a bucket of 9.4 PH water and stir it up in my aquarium with the fish living in 7.0 water. I'd basically have to remove all the fish which is pretty stressful on them, and with a few of our fish very time consuming. In fact I killed some one time by leaving fish in a bucket for too long - (and we didn't even put a bubbler in) - I assume they died from lack of oxygen. Anyway it's a routine we've done for over a year now with only the occasional problem - yesterday being one of those days.

I did the water change for the smaller tank last Sunday night. All was well. Tank clouded up as usual and then got crystal clear an hour or two later. I was in pain and misery due to my sciatica but it was done. Monday I had a Dr's appt and ran a couple of errands. Wish the Dr was the type that handles
sciatica but she isn't.

On Tuesday I did the water change on the big tank- by then a some water had evaporated from the smaller tank so I had aa little leftover water so I poured in about 1 gallon to top it off and it clouded up the smaller tank - I thought that was a little strange given the water ratio, one gallon shouldn't have clouded up the tank that bad - but the Neutral Regulator always turns the water in the tank white so I figured it would clear up in a couple hours - I went to bed.

Wednesday I woke up to a horrible smell. It was like 10 dogs had pooped in my bedroom. I got up and the smell was coming from the smaller tank, which had cleared a little but was still pretty white in color - just taking a mental inventory and trying to see through the haze it seemed all the fish were still swimming and alive, but I thought maybe one of my GIANT DoJo's had passed away because no other fish would be big enough to raise that kind of stink. But I could clearly see all of the bigger fish, Now the big tank had the exact same type of water in it and it was cloudy for 1 hour and cleared up just fine and no smell, just like our tanks usually do. SOMETHING was different about that 1 gallon of water I poured into the smaller tank or something was different about my smaller tank.

So after having some coffee, some anti-nausea medicine and had taken all my pills and done my breathing treatments and fed the cat and fed all the feral cats outside - the whole time trying not to cry because I knew I HAD to do a water change immediately. I really thought about taking all the fish out for this one so I could remove all the water - but I couldn't even see all the fish clearly. I have no idea what they thought about it. So I removed about 80% of the water as quickly as I could - that's as far as I could go or I would have some really stressed fish. Right then one of my tetra's turned on her side dead. Then another, then another etc., until all 6 colored tetras took that moment to die together - so I'm really assuming chemistry is responsible since I didn't drop a brick in the tank to cause this or maybe mass hysterical suicide?. I removed the little dead tetra and did an inventory - every other fish that I have in that tank was still alive - BUT the one thing most of these fish have in common is that they use their swim bladder to breathe regular air - so they weren't entirely dependent on the water oxygen. I do have two types of fish that I don't know if they can breathe regular air or not, I have a Tomasi L188a Pleco (affectionally called "my favorite martian"), and I have 3 baby Bristlenose Lemon Pleco L-144 and I don't know if either of those species can breathe regular air. The rest of my fish are Dojo loaches and Dwarf Gourami - all of which can breath fresh air. So my thought at the moment was that the concentration of whatever was the problem was greatest at the bottom of the tank (or the tetra just died due to stress all at the same time) At the time I should have tested the water or at least taken out a large enough sample to test it later but I was just thinking of getting that tank filled back up. The smell was pretty much gone so that was reassuring. So I filled it back up, using the same prime and the same Neutral Regulator and it got cloudy again and today (Thursday and my Birthday) it's still cloudy but far better than it was. So the tank is still not behaving "normally" with that Neutral Regulator - we don't measure it out when we put it in the bucket but sprinkle some in the lid and when it looks like about 1/4 tsp. we stop - both my assistant and I bake a lot and easily visualize 1/4 tsp without measuring. That's enough to make the PH of that bucket 7.0 - I obviously put it in since the water was white. If I hadn't put prime in probably nothing would happen because the other 28 gallons of water DID have prime in it - but I'm sure I put prime in it too. Now it's 1:30 am Friday and you can really see the fish now but it's still pretty cloudy. Nobody else has died. Smell is normal. In my bigger tank - it's stayed clear the entire time and no fish have died.

Today I did take some measurements on the water in the smaller tank: Ammonia-0, Nitrite-0,Nitrates-10, PH 7.2 What WAS interesting was measuring the Ammonia. I'm using the standard API kit and you put 8 drops of stuff from 2 bottles and, at least for me it always turns a little bit yellow. Sometimes it's so close to the yellow on the card it's hard to tell but this time the water stayed COMPLETELY CLEAR I have NEVER seen that before so that's strange. The other thing is that I'm assuming that it was the 1 gallon of top-off water that caused the problem when the problem might have already been there but hadn't had time enough to develop the smell and everything. Whatever it is did react with the new water to make the entire tank cloudy - but to me it still points to that one bucket of water.

So can anybody solve this mystery? BTW Seachem's Neutral Regulator contains "Phosphate buffers and conditioning agents"

Picture taken about 1:45 am on Friday 1/22/2021

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Jan Cavalieri

Jan Cavalieri

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Well I'll bump this up - anybody have any ideas what might have happened so I don't do this again?
 
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Jan Cavalieri

Jan Cavalieri

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Today, just after feeding the fish in my larger tank I walked in to turn off their light for the night and that entire tank had suddenly turned cloudy too. Luckily no funky odor and as far as I could tell all the fish appear to be alive. I do not understand what is going on. The food is not new, it's not even from newly opened containers - they get flakes and medium size balls.

My assumption keeps being that it has something to do with the Neutral Regulator (the chemical we add during the water change to change the PH to 7.0) - it always causes the water to turn very cloudy for the first hour or two after the water change but then the water is always sparkling clear. In the case of my larger tank - it was cloudy after the water change 4 days ago, immediately cleared up and looked beautiful until tonight - and I didn't even top off the tank, The filter on both these tanks is the AquaClear 70 - a big filter especially for the 29 gallon but we had nothing but trouble with the AquaClear50, it was just constantly stopping up and needing to be cleaned out. The 70's do as well but it's nearly always just plant debris surrounding the uptake hose. I have to clear this off both tanks at least once per day. I clean every crevice of the filter when we do a water change - so the filters get cleaned weekly.

I just turned off the light and am going to bed, wondering what I'll experience in the morning. This tank is filled with various species of Rainbow fish as well as two extremely large DoJo's (DoJo's are my favorite fish but are growing too big for the tanks even though all the Internet articles and youtube videos said they usually stay in a size proportional to the tank they are in but these are all 8-12 inches and nearly the size of a quarter around). I mention the Dojos because they are very active and tend to stir up any dirt from the bottom of the tank or from on top of plants, as well as just "redecorating" the tank to their taste so I've thought maybe they are stirring up that chemical which has fallen out of solution for some reason, I don't know taking wild guesses and dreading the thought of a water change (we're celebrating my birthday tomorrow and if this starts to smell like the other tank did it would be a disaster plus it takes me at least 7 hours to do a water change on this tank - I'm so slow. And I don't have a spare 7 hours before guests arrive. I swear I am ready to throw in the towel on fishkeeping - it is just too demanding. and ridiculously expensive. I started with 4 tanks and have dropped down to 2 after fish died and I didn't replace them. I've had wonderful moments with them but I think there is more bad than good with this hobby.
 

Naughts

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When you say the ammonia test was clear after the big water change, does that mean the reading was 0?

When one of my tanks was less than a year old (but more than 6 months so "mature") I rinsed the sponges under tap water because I hadn't had problems with this and also other members do it. After a couple of times I realised that the water would cloud and clear after maintenance and concluded the cycle wasn't strong enough to lose the bacteria that was on the sponges. I started to rinse them in tank water and it didn't cloud anymore. Now that the tank is older I rinse the sponges under the tap and it stays clear so I conclude the cycle is strong.

I'm guessing that your large fish and bioload could easily tip the cycle if it was weak.
It wouldn't hurt to add some bottled beneficial bacteria. And I would be testing everything frequently to glean what is going on, particularly ammonia.

I don't have any advise on the Neutral Regulator. My pH is 7.6 and when I used pH down, it caused a swing in parameters due to the KH. I threw it away but I appreciate that a pH over 9 is a big problem.
 

mcordelia

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Jan, I am sorry that you are having so many troubles. I think fishkeeping, especially with bigger tanks, tends to be a relatively physical hobby. Water is heavy, and often positions that are needed to do water changes are not ergonomic are require strength to maintain.

I am a strong believer that fishkeeping should be relaxing and enjoyable, not stressful. I wonder if in light of your circumstances it might need to be a time to evaluate whether downsizing is in the cards? I wonder whether 1-2 small tanks featuring personable fish like a single betta, or maybe even an invert or mystery snail tank may be an avenue for you to continue to get enjoyment out of the hobby, without the difficulties that arise out of your current physical limitations?

I know this is a big decision and it is perhaps not appropriate for someone online who hardly knows you to propose. I am just bringing it up as something to think about over the course of the next few weeks/months.

Another thing that may or may not be a viable approach for you would be to hire an aquarium maintenance service. I wonder if you could ask your LFS whether they know, or offer something like that. I know the good LFS in my area does aquarium maintenance service, I believe it is a monthly contract fee, and they do everything for the tank so that the owner only needs to enjoy. If you are very attached to your loaches, maybe this would be an alternative that might work for you moving forward? Worth at least making the phone call to inquire about pricing.

Best of luck, and I hope your birthday goes well without any fish disasters!
 
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Jan Cavalieri

Jan Cavalieri

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Yeah I think if my assistant continues to be unreliable I would hire an aquarium maintenance service - of course that doesn't help the the issue I had tonight - after my Birthday party (which was very nice) I went in to feed the fish, check the filters and heaters like I do every day and the water temperature on my 29 gallon tank was freezing. My $100 300watt heater had gone out some time today. So I dug through my drawers of old parts and found a 200 watt heater which technically is supposed to be the right size for this tank but I never found that to be true - which explains why I have a couple of 200 watt heaters I'm not using. I was really tired so I fed them, then realized that I had just fed them twice and knew what an absolute mess that can make in the water. So I suctioned the bottom and then replaced the water (with really warm water since the 200w heater wasn't working too fast) - it was a little harder than I wanted to work tonight but thankfully I didn't have to do a full water change - but I'd probably do that kind of work myself even if I had a mainenance service. It's very tempting and I think all of us know we get to know our fish better if we do the maintenance ourselves. We get a feeling for their agressiveness, anxiety, how friendly they are and how they interact with you and with each other. We loose a lot when it just turns into an aquatic building like the zoo. I've already downsized from 4 tanks to 2 and as fish pass away I probably will downsize to one tank (plus my 5 gallon betta). Oh I detest snails, so glad my loaches eat them - I pull them out of the betta's tank and throw them in with the Dojo's and you find the shell pieces later - sorry for those of you that are so fond of snails.\

OH and Naughts you may have something there with the sponges. When I ran the ammonia test the water stayed absolutely clear not a hint of yellow like you usually get even when it;s not as dark to be an actual ammonia reading. I found that to be super strange. I've been testing water for 2 yrs now and never have I seen the water stay clear. Did it again tonight and it stayed clear. In the beginning when I was first on this forum I only rinsed my sponge in tank water (usually the last bucket of tank water), well it didn't do a very good job of cleaning out the sponge and we were having problems with the filters not filtering because the sponge was too full of food and poop. So at that point we started rinsing them in regular water until the water pretty much ran clear - plus after all AquaClear says to REPLACE the sponge every two months and they even have you replace the Bio-ceramics (where even more of your bacteria lurk) every three months. But I get on this forum and a number of member said - don't touch the ceramics so we have never thrown out the ceramics. But if I recall when we started rinsing out the filters is around the time we started getting the cloudy water - cloudy and nasty smelling - not as cloudy and nasty smelling as it was this last week but a similar reaction, If we are depleting the bacteria too much WHY does it have this particular reaction- because my test kit shows my tank is still cycled. I do occassionally throw in a half a bottle of bacteria - usually when I'm getting ready to receive a significant number of new fish because as many newbies find out - they think their tank is all cycled and then put 20 fish in it and the whole thing crashes because the cycle can't handle that many fish the first time. I usually tell them get about 5 fish for the first couple of weeks and then add another 5 etc., Give the aquarium time to "grow" with the fishes. I find it really interesting that we both had cloudy tanks after "over cleaning: our sponges but what is it with the cloudy water? I can understand the rancid smell because the tank may not be converting all that nastiness through the cycle so week after week the food and poop continue to creap up. But we are so good at suctioning out all the extra food and poop and making it a really spotless environment that I'm not sure we should be having any bad odors either. I mean we do such a GOOD job nothing should be going wrong in my opinion (other than the continuous fight against the overpriced cheaply made electronics). I was waiting at my dentists office on day and their fish tank cleaner came in and I wasn't exactly impressed with her work. She did have a bunch of different strange color solutions - so I don't know what magic she was performing but I have to admit the tank looked great when she got there and great when she left. I will definitely give it all some more thought. I think if I got down to one 50 gallon tank I could have all the fish I enjoy. I think I've tried about every species my water can handle except cichlids and I've had enough aggression and canabalism with my peaceful fish I don't want to deal with more aggression.
 

Guyb93

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This might sound stupid and costly and I have no idea weather you get enough rain where you are but get an outdoor open top storage tank with a one way pump to your aquarium and another one way pump to empty the tank , would be a matter of flicking a switch to empty the tank and a flick of a switch to refill plus rain water is pretty neutral before it passes through the earth ... I thought about doing it but I’m a sicko freak who actually enjoys changing water lol
 

mcordelia

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I don't think that having an aquarium service would preclude you from being able to do whatever maintenance you want on your tank, it would just be a way that you could get someone to show up immediately if there was a problem that you weren't able to take care of yourself, and if you were having a bad day when a water change was due you could rest assured that the water would still get changed even though you wouldn't necessarily be up to it. I would say definitely go for it if it's something that's a possibility for you. I talked to a girl at my LFS who was part of the crew who does the maintenance work, and they seemed super chill. I got the impression that they had as many different types of arrangements as they did number of contracts. She told me that some people don't even top off their tanks and she literally does everything for them, while others like to be more involved. I'm sure you would be able to figure out an arrangement that worked for you. It might also help that they would probably be familiar with the water in your area, and would probably have experience with a lot of different kinds of issues, so it would almost be like having an on-site "consultant" able to troubleshoot what was going on.

As far as the cause of the cloudiness and smell, that's a tricky one. Usually, when stuff goes anaerobic it can really start to smell really fast, so I'd make sure you have enough oxygenation/surface agitation going on in all tanks, and that the flow from the filters is able to stir the tank water so you don't have spots where water can just sit and not circulate. I also think it's generally not advised to use chemicals to try and alter the pH, since that is always just temporary. If your pH is higher than you would like, have you considered using peat to try and bring it down? that would be a more gentle and longstanding way to adjust the pH, as opposed to adding a solution at water change that then has the potential to drift.
 
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