When the housemate of lecturer Miriam Sullivan bought a Siamese fighting fish, Miriam's life changed - and life may change for the better for the world's pet fish too, if she has her way.
Miriam, who teaches in science communication at The University of Western Australia, said the fish was so unhappy in its small container that it jumped out and died - and then the housemate bought another one and kept it in the same conditions.
"You wouldn't do that to a puppy," Miriam said.
Miriam was so concerned about the fish that she began thinking about all the other pet fish in the world and made their welfare the topic of her PhD, which she has now submitted. She also became the proud owner of five goldfish - the first fish she had owned - and was pleased to see how responsive they were to her.
"Fish are the forgotten family pet," she said. "Just like cats and dogs, fish are intelligent, long-lived and can feel pain, but you would never flush your dead cat down a toilet or win puppies at carnivals.
"With 1.5 billion pet fish sold globally every year, it's time we started taking better care of them and regularly cleaning out an aquarium is one of the most effective ways to keep your fish healthy."
Miriam's PhD is in three parts: a survey of 600 fish owners (and people who had given up on their fish) around Australia and internationally; an online short video which analyses people's responses to the suggestion that they clean their pets' tanks; and Miriam's research into goldfish and whether they prefer real or fake plants in their tanks. (They have no preference, but do need some kind of plant for shelter.)
"Most fish owners are very good, dedicated owners who know how to properly look after their fish," she said. "But some people don't know how to look after fish and often don't realise that a goldfish, for example, can live for ten years.
"People thinking about getting fish as pets should find out as much about them as they can. First, they can Google information and there is a lot out there. They can talk to people who already have fish. People need to take responsibility for their pets and new owners run the risk of not knowing a lot of important information.
"Bigger tanks are easier to look after properly as the water temperature remains more constant and stays cleaner."
Miriam said people had been enjoying keeping fish as pets for thousands of years, since the ancient Chinese began it. "But having pet fish really took off in Victorian England when the technology to produce glass aquariums was mastered."
Miriam hopes her passion for pet fish is catching.
More information on The Conversation.