Goldfish exhibit in Norwalk dives deep into history of popular pet

A new exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk goes beyond the fishbowl and dives deep into one of the most common household pets, according to the Insurance Information Institute: the goldfish.

Opening on Oct. 9, the aquarium’s special exhibit called “Think You Know Goldfish?” will bring guests through the cultural history of the fish, as well as debunk misconceptions and explain proper care practices. The 700-square-foot space brings goldfish into the exhibit with traditional aquarium tanks, a living room setting with an example of a properly set-up home aquarium and an open-water koi pond. 

As guests go through the exhibit space, they will learn about the over 100 varieties of goldfish, their carp ancestors and lineage tracing back to ancient China. Outside of highlighting the correct way to care for a goldfish, the exhibit will also explain how the freshwater fish can grow to the size of a football when illegally released into a pond or lake. 

A new exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn. called "Think You Know Goldfish?" will bring guests through the cultural history of the fish, as well as debunk misconceptions and explain proper care practices. 

A new exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn. called "Think You Know Goldfish?" will bring guests through the cultural history of the fish, as well as debunk misconceptions and explain proper care practices. 

Maritime Aquarium / Contributed Photo

The phenomenon is not uncommon. In July 2021, several goldfish were discovered in a lake near Minneapolis, Minn., according to the Washington Post, where they not only grew in size, but also reproduced quickly and brought about poor water quality. In Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection states it is illegal to release goldfish from home aquariums or use them as bait in large lakes or streams. 

Goldfish have also been (improperly) disposed of by other means. In 1939, Harvard University freshman Lothrop Withington, Jr., swallowed a 3-inch goldfish on a dare, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Withington’s foray into fish swallowing was covered by local press at the time and eventually made it to LIFE magazine, Smithsonian notes, resulting in a “competitive craze that swept the nation’s colleges.”

With improper disposal and care both part of the tale of the Maritime Aquarium’s goldfish exhibit, director of animal husbandry Barrette Christie said in a release that the exhibit aims to inform guests on the goldfish beyond what the pet store shares. 

"This is a fish that’s about as common today as a penny, and is often treated with about the same respect," Christie said. "But they’re actually an interesting and ancient species, and also a species that can cause serious issues when released into the environment."

The exhibit will be free with admission to the aquarium and open through spring 2022.