In case you missed it, yesterday I blogged about designer Yan Lu’s Poor Little Fishbowl Sink, a water conservation-minded design concept — concept being the operative word here — that pairs, as described, a fishbowl and a sink. When a user runs the tap, perhaps recklessly, water slowly drains from the attached fishbowl, giving its helpless finned resident less water to swim around in (it must be noted that the bowl never completely drains and the water coming from the tap isn’t from the fishbowl itself). Lu describes his design as “an emotional way to persuade consumers to think about saving water, by making consumption tangible.”

Although I ultimately dig the clever eco-inventiveness of the design, it did leave me wondering if fluctuating water levels could be “super stress-inducing for Mr. Fish” even it the bowl doesn't actually empty out.

Not surprisingly, PETA, an animal welfare organization not exactly known for subtlety, sent a letter to Lu today (read it in its entirety below) giving him props for his design but asking him to please use fake fish in his prototype and discourage buyers from putting real fish in the tank if the prototype ever becomes available commercially (I have a hunch it probably won't). 

PETA claims that subjecting a goldfish to constantly changing water levels is cruel and that a pet shouldn’t be placed in such a “small, barren space” to begin with. I agree with PETA’s first point but I can’t say I’m on the same page about the “small, barren space.” Call me insensitive, but don’t all goldfish in captivity as pets live in spaces that aren’t exactly elaborate and on the smaller side? My childhood goldfish lived alone in a small, somewhat threadbare space and didn’t seem to have any complaints, living to the ripe old age of eight.

What do you think about PETA’s reaction to the Poor Little Fishbowl Sink? Do you agree with them fully or do you think the organization has, ahem, bigger fish to fry than writing a sternly worded missive to the designer behind a sink concept that has the potential to stress out goldfish? 

September 21, 2010

Yan Lu

Via e-mail

Dear Mr. Lu,

On behalf of PETA and our more than 2 million members and supporters, we appreciate your desire to raise awareness about water conservation, but subjecting a fish to a barren life alone in a tiny bowl that has constantly fluctuating water levels is the wrong way to go. You could make the same point without causing the suffering of an intelligent, sensitive animal by replacing the fish in your "Poor Little Fishbowl Sink" prototypes with a fake one and ensuring that future commercial sales of your product include a fake fish so that buyers won't be tempted to purchase a real one. With all due respect, to ignore the suffering of an individual who is part of our ecosystem seems to echo the same arrogance that has led us to have a problem in the first place.

Although it may be easy to ignore the fact, fish are smart and curious animals who form complex social relationships, but they are doomed to dull, unfulfilled, and lonely lives when confined to tiny glass bowls. An issue of Fish and Fisheries cited more than 500 research papers proving that fish are intelligent, have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures, and can use tools. Fish learn by watching what other fish do, and "they are capable of learning quickly," according to Dr. Chris Glass, director of marine conservation at the Manomet Centre of Conservation Sciences in Massachusetts. People the world over have begun to see fish for the intelligent, social creatures they are and are refusing to condemn them to life in a tiny bowl. In fact, the city of Monza, Italy, recently banned keeping goldfish in bowls because these containers do not even come close to meeting the needs of fish. Subjecting a fish to constantly changing water levels adds to the cruelty, even if the water never entirely runs out—imagine being trapped in a room with constantly shifting oxygen levels.

Environmental education does not require cruelty to animals. Please let us know that you'll replace the real fish in your sink with a fake one. We would be most appreciative, and so would the fish. Thank you.


Tracy Reiman

Executive Vice President

Prototype image: Yan Lu

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Sink/fishbowl designer in hot water with PETA
The animal rights group catches wind of Yan Lu's eco-minded Poor Little Fishbowl Sink design concept and isn't entirely thrilled with it; letter writing ensures