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August 22, 2008

If you missed it on recent newscasts, it’s there on display on You Tube: the fish pedicure. You can watch in horror as tiny fish nibble at feet dunked in a tank of water—not at the nibbling (the fish are toothless, for goodness sake) but at the cavalier abuse of these animals. According to an AP report on the phenomenon, the spa owner offering it said he’d wanted to come up with a unique replacement for razors to scrape off dead skin, razors having run afoul of state regulators over sanitation concerns. Also according to the report, the D.C.–area spa has more than 1,000 fish in thrall, with about 100 in a tank at a time.

The spa’s originally communal pool has been switched to individual tanks where the water is changed for each customer, on order of the county health department. But what about health threats to the fish?

A Google search revealed that the fish, known as Garra rufa, hide among stones and vegetation in their natural habitat of rivers, lakes, ponds, and muddy streams, and feed mainly on plants. A call to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium to investigate further met with a polite suggestion that I talk to the owner of a fish store who may be more familiar with them.

Another Google search, of fish stores here in So Cal, located one that sounded promising: Reviews of Kyoto Aquarium characterized the owner as “exceptionally knowledgeable, honest, and kind” and as “a wise man, ecological and generous with his guidance.”

My mention of fish pedicures plainly upset the person answering the phone at Kyoto Aquarium, who identified himself as the owner. “What you’re doing is wrong!” he chided me. “Fish need gravel, plants, sun, bacteria, aeration! Good-bye!”

Evidently he thought I wanted to buy fish for my own at-home treatment. I’ve never felt so gratified at having someone hang up on me.

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