Yesterday morning I had been re-arranging some driftwood in my 3ft Malawi Set Up which is home to some Malawi cichlids, a rather friendly Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps and two Synodontis decora. The tank is planted with Anubias and Java Fern on wood, a collection of lava rocks and some 'fake' logs.
Upon lifting a piece of driftwood out, my largest Decora, Phi, got startled and darted into the fake log. S/he sits at about 10-12cm long, 3-4cm at it's thickest around the abdomen. The fake log has three openings, and one of the openings is about 4cm in diameter at the longest part, 3cm at the smallest (it's an oval). Phi managed to get itself stuck in said opening.
At this point, I was standing over my tank holding the bit of driftwood in hand in shock. I had never had a fish get stuck in anything before, so started to panic.
(Both Decora's were imported from another state and were about this [see below] big when I got each:
- Sorry about image quality
The above is Chi on 27th August 2011. My LFS is rather lucky to even manage to get about 5-8 specimens each year ><)
Not knowing what to do, I quickly replaced the driftwood, dimmed the lights and watched as poor Phi's tail was wriggling quite considerably to try and get through the hole. I tried calling my LFS for advice (mine is rather knowledgeable and an avid aquarist himself) but store hadn't opened yet. Keeping an eye on the Decora I jumped online, looking for advice for what to do. At this point, I flicked the lights off on the aquarium completely, hoping that the darkness would calm Phi enough to escape. I found utterly STUPID suggestions like "use warm water" (excuse me while I hit my head on a desk) to some reasonable suggestions, such as leaving for an hour with lights out, dosing Stress Coat in tank for Aloe Vera extract, or gently coaxing it forward or backwards through the opening, or worse-case-scenario, using a chisel/hammer to break the ornament apart.
I decided to keep a close eye on it and was hoping that it would wriggle free on its own. This log in question it had managed to dart in and out of quite happily in the past (frequently does so during feeding time) and had never been stuck before, so I was hoping it would make it out itself. After leaving it about 20 minutes, I started to worry as it was still struggling and I could see from the other end of the log it was breathing quite rapidly. Fearing that I may lose my fish to shock if I didn't act, I looked around for success stories online for people in the same situation.
I had already dosed the tank with Stress Coat when I first came across the suggestion, and now I decided to see what can be done. One suggestion, a person had a fish stuck in an ornament and had used tweezers with rubber ends to pull the fish out, commenting that many fish "didn't have a reverse gear". Given the size of the fish, and tools NOT on hand, I figured I would try and pull it out myself. Ensuring my hands were completely clean, I poured more of the stress coat solution into a bucket with water at double dose and ensured my hands were significantly coated in this. Then, picking up the log, I checked the situation. The fish was unable to progress forward as it had entered completely straight, rather than on an angle (as mentioned, it's an oval shape). It had been trapped by its two pectoral fins and dorsal fins as they were blocking the way for it to get in.
Gently holding onto its tail, I attempted to extract the fish. Phi got startled again by this, wriggled around and I got nicked twice with its spines on my finger. I managed to extract Phi about 50% of the way out, but only to have it dart into the log again. Seeing as it worked first time, and I was able to pull Phi out with ease (being very, very careful about this), I instead angled the log upwards, (all the time in the water) and extracted Phi out. S/he darted downwards to the bottom of the tank and into hiding, several scrapes and scratches on his/her side.
Immediately I removed both fake logs, fixed up the furniture to provide more hiding spots now that the two logs were gone, and slowly started adding aquarium salt to help reduce stress. The entire ordeal lasted about 1hr - 1hr 30 min total. At about 10 (this happened at 8.30am), I turned the lights on, but only left the soft-blue light on, keeping the bright white off; shifting the light slightly so only one side of the tank was lit, while the other side (which is Phi's territory) was in semi-darkness.
That afternoon, I dropped down to my LFS, explained what happened, and grabbed a bottle of Melafix, dosing the tank when I got home.
All in all, Phi appears rather shaken and isn't slinking around for food as s/he normally does, however did come out for a little nibble of some catfish chips in the afternoon. Will keep an eye on Phi over the next week to ensure wounds heal quickly.
TL;DR: Decora got stuck, could not get out of fake log. Dosed tank with Stress Coat with Aloe, then after 20 minutes of fish being unable to get free, gently pulled fish out using fingers washed in Stress Coat/Water solution. Tank had aquarium salt and melafix added to tank. Decora sporting several scratches along body.