Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Sea Pigs (Scotoplanes, and other deep-sea animals) can't be pets!

Sea Pigs
So, the other day, I was tracking down some of the various places (discussion boards, etc.) my "sea pig" posts had ended up and discovered there was a fairly common discussion that seemed to happen.

They usually go like this:

Person: Wow those are adorable! I can't wait to get one to put in my coral reef tank!
Me: Well, you can't really. They live in deep water.
Person: Does that mean I need to get a bigger tank?
Me: *sigh* (sound of hand slapping against forehead), Why can't you make sea pigs pets?? There's MANY reasons. I will completely avoid any of the ethical considerations and emphasize a bunch of facts that will be pretty straightforward...


As I mentioned in my original post on sea pigs  they live in the deepest part of the ocean, the Abyss.
That's in the neighborhood of 3000 to 5000 METERS down. Easily THREE MILES beneath the surface of the ocean where we live.

That's about THREE times the distance from the edge of the Grand Canyon to its deepest point with ONE important difference. Its filled with WATER. And here is where our story begins!

They Live In The Abyss.
So, here's the deal. Sea pigs live in some of the DEEPEST PLACES ON EARTH and they are UNDERWATER.

Everything is different.
  1. There is no light.
  2. Temperature is close to freezing
  3. Because there is WATER, there is PRESSURE. For every 10 m, the pressure increases by ONE ATMOSPHERE. At 3000 m that means you have a pressure that is the roughly the equivalent of 300 atmospheres or about 317 TONS per square foot (US)!
While that means a LOT in the real of the things it means is this:
On the left is a normal styrofoam cup. ON the right is a cup which I took down with me to about 1000 m off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. All the air has been crushed out of it and all you've got remaining is the plastic compressed into a shriveled little husk.

So, What does this mean for the animal??

Sea pigs and other deep-sea animals have EVOLVED to living in these environments over the course of millions of years. That means, almost ALL of their body systems are adapted to working efficiently in this environment under an ideal balance of pressure, temperature and etc.

What seems like a harsh and alien environment to us, is just their natural home. We don't deal well in "their" world any better then they do in ours.

Several reactions of the animal to being brought to the surface include:
  1. Gas sacs (if any) in the body suddenly expanding. 
  2. Body physiology, including digestive enzymes, gas uptake, waste and metabolic systems, autoimmune systems, would all be completely thrown out of balance. 
  3. The animal would undergo thermal shock (from essentially near freezing temps to surface temps) 
Of these my experience, the thermal shock is the most traumatic influence and the one that most immediately damages the animal being drawn through different thermal water layers.
Echinoblog Art Dept!

I've seen very well-equipped laboratories and aquariums collect and keep some of these invertebrates alive for a short while. They manage to minimize the temperature differential and some species lack either the pressure/temperature dependent body metabolism or gas bladders.

But to keep them alive, they were often stored in special custom made, refrigerated tanks that needed to be kept in a completely dark room and constantly watched by several specially trained biologists. A difficult and expensive process.

Feeding is also a difficult process to duplicate. As indicated in my original post,  sea pigs thrive on fresh, high-quality goo, i.e., organic material that falls to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Duplicating the quality of this food would not be easy and even if you came up with something, you wouldn't know if you were successful for literally MONTHS. These things have such slow metabolisms, that they would slowly starve to death and it would be difficult to determine if they were eating.

And finally... COLLECTION of sea pigs is expensive (and near impossible for most people)
(from the Galathea 3 website)
To Recap:  Sea pigs live in DEEP-SEA environments. 
Movies and TV don't often give you a good idea of just how DIFFICULT or EXPENSIVE it is to reach even a 1000 m depth.

If we just talk nets and trawls for example, it can take nearly a FULL DAY just to drop and recover a net to 1000 meters. That generally involves a ship, about a half-dozen fully trained deck hands, plus all the other planning and etc.

Even smaller research vessels, such as this one  cost about 2,000 US Dollars a DAY to operate. Big research vessels, such as the one above can easily run into MUCH more then that. Also, if you're trying to collect them in good shape, you would want to use some kind of submersible (say an ROV) which would cost another 1500-2500 per day. So...shipboard expenses are already running you about 5000.00 or more a day!!!

For most people that's gonna be uh.. "cost prohibitive" for an aquarium pet..

PLUS the expensive of the custom made tanks with refrigeration units (and specialized equipment such as the one below-go here for more) AND finding food. Plus replacing them if you wanted more, not to mention the personnel.
from Popsci-go here for link!
Bottom line: You want a sea pig for a pet? 

Unless you're already a deep-sea biologist, my options to you: If you're not FANTASTICALLY rich... find some models or toys and appreciate the real ones from afar via their pictures and video!

Or get yourself something a little more conventional...cats need love too!


Hi! I'm Janola. said...

Just want to give some props to the Echinoblog Art Department.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

For a recent sea pig photo in the wild, check out

Anonymous said...

I want a sea pig!... Only kidding, great article thanks :)

teejcee said...

Smoked up, googled sea pig and found this blog, its great. Entertained me for a long time. I like your writing style too, but I must say, I really wanted one too.

Anonymous said...

This is so lame!

Why is fucking ORA not out there slowly bringing these things up and getting them used to warm water. It is so stupid!

Do I want ANOTHER clown fish? NO! I want a fuckin sea pig! I can't believe no one is going out and trying to get these things all domesticated and shit.

WTF people? Is it really so hard to make a reef safe sea pig that lives off of Cyclopeeze in normal water? This is so fuckin gay!

Anonymous said...

Waaaa! I want to have sea piggy. This is so lame! (*chuckles) Despite all of the thourough reasons that you have illustrated to explain why this isn't a possibility, I still feel the urge to whine and complain copiously, using unintelligent and unnecessary profanity to express why it isn't fair that I... can't... have... one...! Boo-freakin-hoo! Whaaaaaa! Why is it so hard to be me and not get everything that I want!?! I don't like or want to accept your informative and logical explanation. Ugh! Hmmmph (crossing my arms in a demonstrative manner). I'm just going to attempt to lower other people's IQs with my mindless, immature drivel. *stomp, stomp, stomp.

Thank you