Just Keep Swimming… Even If You’re Doing It Weird

, , , , , , , , | Working | October 12, 2020

I work in a research lab where we use zebrafish to study genetics. When I joined, the first thing the professor told me was not to name the fish or get attached to them under any circumstances. We don’t kill the fish for our work; we just take tissue samples by clipping a small piece of a fin or the tip of their tail, which will grow back. If a fish gets sick or injured, though, we have to put it down quickly, to avoid it injuring or infecting the rest of the tank, or dying unnoticed and contaminating the water.

As such, when I notice that one of the young male fish we’re raising to restock our tanks is visibly deformed, I know he’s probably going to have to go, so I catch him and put him in a separate container.

Professor: “Any updates?”

Me: “Got some good results on the last sample set I’d like you to look over, and I pulled a fish with a birth defect out of the juvenile tank. I’m afraid we’re probably going to have to put him down.”

Professor: “Let me see.”

He takes the container and studies the deformed fish. The fish looks like someone took his head and his tail and twisted in opposite directions, but he’s still swimming, albeit slowly, and not showing any of the usual signs of distress or injury.

Professor: “Awww, but he’s so cute! Do we really have to put him down?”

Me: “Well, we can’t use him for research, and you’re the one who told me that any injured or sick fish have to go.”

Professor: “Yeah, I know, but he’s swimming pretty well, and I don’t want to put him down unless he’s in distress. I’m going to name him Austin. Keep Austin weird!”

Me: “What should I do with him, then? I don’t want to put him back in with our research fish.”

Professor: “How about putting him in the retirement tank with our older fish? They move pretty slowly anyway, so Austin will be able to keep up, and none of them are used for research anymore.”

Me: “Works for me. Austin gets an early retirement.”

I couldn’t be the one to make the decision, but if the professor okayed it, I was more than happy to move the fish to the retirement tank. Austin can’t move very fast, but he’s still around and has become our unofficial lab mascot. And at least half of our fish have been named.

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