That betta fish you picked up at your local pet store may look pretty swell in its fishbowl, but ever wonder where it came from?
One Reddit user, who claims to work at a pet store, shed some light on how bettas are shipped from fish suppliers in a striking photo series.
Posted Monday, the images show a shipment of betta fish as they arrive in a cardboard box. Close-up photos illustrate how each fish is individually packaged -- likely because males cannot be stored together without fighting -- in a small plastic bag that contains a minimal amount of liquid with an unusual bluish tint.
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Though we couldn't get in touch with the user, several retailers confirmed that the practice depicted in the photos is commonly used to transport living fish through the mail, especially over long distances.
Bryan Epstein of Florida-based retailer Blue Betta USA speculated that the product used to maintain and subdue the fish is probably Ship Right, or a similar water-conditioning and fish-calming solution.
"We use a tranquilizer/stress reducer to ship fish. Depending on the size and type will dictate the size of the bag, amount of water and pure [oxygen]," Epstein wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
While there are no overarching regulations governing live fish shipments, shipping providers often set their own guidelines for mailing packages that contain live animals. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, requires senders to double-bag fish using strong plastic bags with a minimum thickness of 4 mils. Each bag must also be filled with about one-third water and the rest oxygen.
"This sort of packaging is more typical of large scale fish farms in Asia shipping to pet store chains," Victoria Parnell-Stark, who sells the siamese fighting fish and runs betta fan site Betty Splendens, clarified in an email to HuffPost. "This is not at all how hobbyists and most show breeders/distributers would ship bettas."
Dan Stearn, the owner of The Fish Store in Seattle further explained that the shipping method is often used because betta fish can breathe air, meaning they can survive in an oxygen-depleted atmosphere.
"Many suppliers, particularly ones in Asia try to reduce the volume of water with their animals as much as possible to save on shipping costs because too many retailers and wholesalers here in the U.S. have complained about the shipping cost of the extra water," Stearn told HuffPost. "There are many retailers and wholesalers around who do prefer the extra water since it ensures a healthier animal, but our requests for larger volumes tend to fall on deaf ears."
Despite the shipping conditions, which some may perceive as cruel, Stearn assures that the practice "has very little, if any, impact on the betta." After all, fish may not even feel any pain. As one recent study suggested, a fish's brain may not be big enough to allow the animals to process pain the way humans do.
However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals still denounces the practice.
"Most fish are cruelly transported from dealers to pet stores in tiny, cramped bags and containers that bear no resemblance to their natural habitats. Because of this, their water often contains a blue-tinted tranquilizing agent meant to reduce their agitation while they're jostled about in bumpy, often days-long rides and hauled from one end of the country to the other," PETA Senior Media Officer Wendy Wegner told HuffPost.
Though bettas are most commonly characterized as aquarium-dwelling fish, the animal rights organization recommends that prospective buyers let the fish remain in their wild homes -- shallow bodies of water in Asia -- and choose not to support pet stores that sell them.
Learn more about shipping live fish in PETA's video investigation below.