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The pipe-wielding man who broke into an exotic pet store, emptied the cash register and smashed some aquariums probably thought he left no witnesses. But he wasn't counting on Big Blue, a - you guessed it - big, blue tropical fish that survived six hours without water after the attacker fled.
On Saturday, three days after the incident at Animal Instincts Aquarium and Pet Center in Fall River, Mass., Big Blue was back in a suitably large tank, and the reward money raised by locals to find his would-be killer had grown to $800.
"Big Blue's still hanging in there," said a woman named Kim who answered the phone at the store Saturday. "He's had lots of visitors the last few days."
The bizarre incident has captured the attention of the local Herald News, which first reported the story Thursday. According to its account, Big Blue, a Blue Tang fish perhaps better known to humans as the character "Dory" in the movie "Finding Nemo," was minding his own business early Wednesday when a man broke into the pet store. He used a metal pipe to smash repeatedly the 180-gallon tank housing Big Blue and a host of fellow fish and coral until water began gushing out.
The break-in wasn't discovered until staff showed up to open the store several hours later. Big Blue, who is 18 years old, was found flapping atop some rocks in his broken tank, the Herald Star reported.
Bob Schenck, who owns Animal Instincts, was heartbroken. He said 25 fish and 40 types of coral died.
"It was a sad sight to see all our precious animals dead this morning after someone broke into our shop last night and killed all of the animals in our 180-gallon reef tank and invertebrate system," Schenck said in a message posted on Animal Instincts' Facebook page. "This person had no compassion for life."
Kim agreed. "Stealing the cash register is one thing, but recklessly smashing fish tanks is something that makes no sense," she said.
Police say they have photographs and video that could help lead to an arrest. In addition to smashing Big Blue's tank, the perpetrator smashed a 15-gallon tank and tried unsuccessfully to break a second 180-gallon tank. The man fled with the store's computer, cash register and merchandise.
The Herald Star said someone had purchased Big Blue about 14 years ago, when he was the size of a quarter. But, as fish are prone to do, Big Blue grew. Blue Tang fish grow to as large as 12 inches, in fact, and require at least 75-gallon tanks to be comfortable.
About a year ago, Big Blue's owner brought the brilliant blue fish with the bright yellow tail and the yellow-tipped fins to Schenck's shop because he could no longer accommodate Big Blue at home.
Since then, Big Blue had been living in the 180-gallon tank in the back of Schenck's store, along with other smaller companions.
"She should be dead. It's amazing she's still kicking," Schenck told the Herald Star, adding that he was as mystified as anyone over how Big Blue had survived so long out of water. But Schenck cautioned against overoptimism, noting that tropical fish that have been traumatized often don't show symptoms of distress until days later.
Follow Animal Instincts Aquarium and Pet Center on Facebook or go to their website: http://animalinstincts.biz.