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You. Provoked. The. Fish.

, , , , , | Right | December 8, 2022

I work in a science center/museum/zoo. We have an indoor open-water exhibit that features a raised basin with live fish. Reaching into the water and/or petting the fish is strictly prohibited. Visitors learn about this and the reasons for it — potentially aggressive fish, not introducing cosmetics, disinfectant, or bacteria into the water on the visitors’ part, etc. — before they enter the exhibition. The basin itself also features a large and visible sign asking people to not touch the water; plus, there is a staffer present for supervision. At the moment, that’s me.

Living behind the sign by the basin’s edge is a pair of large African cichlids. They are fairly territorial, especially if they have fry to protect, which these two do.

It’s a quiet day, so I’m taking my time chatting to a patron, telling them about the river landscape we’re depicting while facing toward the entrance of the room and the “Don’t touch the water” sign. A man wearing a T-shirt walks in, stops in front of the sign, and visibly reads it. He walks up to the water’s edge and dunks his arm in up to the elbow; the water doesn’t go much deeper than this. There’s a big splash, and he yanks his arm back out, screaming wordless bloody murder. His shirt is wet. 

For added humor, our crocodile, in a glass enclosure behind the man, decides to surface and snap her jaw in the water at that moment, probably in response to the noise.

The man jumps when he spots the crocodile. Then, he spots me and rushes up, sounding almost comically hysterical.

Man: “The fish attacked me! The fish attacked me!”

Me: *Trying not to laugh* “Sir, I’m very sorry, but I very clearly saw you reading the sign that says not to touch the water. This is why.”

Man: “But the fish attacked me!”

I’m still stifling laughter but trying to stay calm and polite.

Me: “Sir, you were told not to touch the water before entering the exhibition, and I just saw you reading the sign. These fish will defend their territory against intruders, especially now that they have babies. We make these rules for a reason. It’s also possible that you will accidentally endanger them because—”

Man: “But! The! Fish! Attacked! Me!”

I pause for a moment.

Me: “Yes, I understand; I saw the incident. If you are hurt, I can take you down to the first aid room. We also sell shirts at our souvenir shop if you would like a dry one.”

Man: “No, thank you… but the fish attacked me.”

He walks past me and out of the room without a look back.

The other patron I was talking to turns to me, we hold eye contact for a moment, and we burst out laughing simultaneously. 

Other Patron: *Still chuckling* “He’s lucky that the crocodile is behind glass; I wouldn’t have wanted to hear him screaming if he’d lost a hand.”

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