“Guess what sweetheart? We’re having Sea Monkeys!”
That’s what I imagine announcing to my fiancee over a candlelit dinner, as I drive home with my brand new Ocean Zoo Sea Monkey kit. Becoming a Sea Monkey parent is never a planned process. It’s somewhat accidental–an impulsive buy in the toy store. Like any new parent, I’m nervous. I have no idea what I’m getting into. “But we’ll learn together,” I’ll say.
“I do not want to live with those things,” is her response, when I get home.
“It’s for the blog,” I say. She’s generally supportive of these things if I tack on the words for the blog. “Besides, maybe I could write something really meaningful about them.”
“They’re still gross.”
She bluffs. I know she’ll like them once she sees how cute they are–whatever they are.
Sea Monkeys are a type of brine shrimp that can live in a state of suspended animation for decades through a process known as cryptobiosis. In nature, cryptobiosis is an evolutionary state allowing organisms to survive indefinitely until environmental conditions return to being hospitable. I don’t get that. So let’s just call it time travel.
Brine Shrimp can be bought in tropical fish stores in tubes by the thousands to be raised as fish food. But here in the Ocean Zoo kit, these brine shrimp are marketed to children as instant, easy-to-care-for pets renamed “Sea Monkeys.” The kit comes with a small plastic tank, water purifier, growth food, and a packet containing a more manageable seventy-five brine shrimp eggs.
I had Sea Monkeys as a kid, though my memories are not happy. I remember sitting in the kitchen and dumping the packet of instant life into the water. But they did not instantly appear and put on a show for me. Instant life did not equal instant fun.
“Let’s give them a few days,” my mother said, as we stared together at the container of still tap water.
And I remember staring sadly into the tank for days on end, waiting for the adorable little Sea Monkeys to appear, to swim and to dance. I was certain they could dance. The instructions said that you could even teach them to do tricks by training them with a flashlight, and I was ready whenever they were, flashlight in hand.
But after two weeks, my mother conceded we may have done something wrong. I had a tankful of dead-on-arrivals.
I am ready to attempt Sea Monkeys again. And perhaps I will find something meaningful to say about them along the way. Maybe I will learn the lessons and wisdom of the Sea Monkeys. Or quite possibly, I will kill them all again. But first, I would have to wait twenty-four hours after adding the water purifier.
The girlfriend confesses she was about “twenty-five percent excited.” (She has since rescinded that statement and wishes to comment that they look like sperm.) But I’m fully ninety-nine percent excited–but I also found myself fretting. What if I am grossed out by them? What if I decide I just don’t want them anymore? What if we move, and I don’t want to take them with me? What if they smell bad? This must be what it’s like for any parent-to-be. The girlfriend assures me in a motherly voice that it will help me “learn responsibility and how to take care of pets.” She has been working around children too long.
Day one. I am so excited. It’s been twenty-four hours since I dumped the water purifier in. Well, actually it’s only been twenty two hours and five minutes, but I cannot wait any longer. I decide to hatch them now. What’s the extra two hours going to do? I drop them in and wait for the miracle of life to occur. Or at least the miracle of cryptobiosis.
The eggs sink lazily to the bottom. And that’s it. I want something happen. Right now. Come on. Right now.
“Well this is a good lesson for you about delaying your gratification,” the girlfriend says. She really has been working around children too long.
Well at least I was armed with knowledge going in this time. The eggs can take up to several days to hatch. If the water conditions aren’t exactly right–not salty enough; not warm enough–the eggs will wait to hatch. They’ve been dormant cysts for the last ten years. Another couple hours or days doesn’t make a difference to them.
Day two. I see the first one. I feel an immediate, strong attachment. My son. He’s barely the size of a pinpoint, and I can only see him in direct sunlight with one eye shut. A few hours later, there are others. At least ten. I love them all. What was I thinking with my doubts? Of course I want to keep them forever.
I take a look at the mail order form. You see, even though Sea Monkeys have a website, the company that makes them, the important-sounding Transcience Corporation, only accepts orders by mail order form. That’s right–no credit cards, no online purchase–cash and checks only. Mail Order. There’s two words from the past.
There is quite the menagerie of things one can order for their pet Sea Monkeys. This list includes: a “super” version of their food, “magic” vitamins, magical gem-like “diamonds” to decorate their tank, a formula to make them grow faster, a special banana treat, Sea Monkey medicine, and a mating powder that makes them fall in love. All these intriguing formulas come in little square packets. But come on. Who actually buys this stuff?
It’s only day two, but I am quickly learning the first Sea Monkey Lesson. That the only thing you can do with them is dump stuff in their tank. And I need stuff to dump, if I’m to have any sort of fun. I find myself gazing at the mail order form over and over again, and then curiously, uncontrollably, picking up a pen. Next thing I know, I’m checking off the packets I want, writing a check, stuffing it in an envelope, writing out the address to that neato sounding TRANSCIENCE CORPORATION. I write the letters with a bit of relish, pressing the pen down onto the envelope.
Each packet runs about three dollars a pop. I order the Banana Treat because even Sea Monkeys love snacks, the Sea Diamonds because that sounds fun, and the Sea-Medic, in case their tank becomes contaminated with a deadly bacteria that slowly suffocates them by depleting all their oxygen. You can never be too safe.
Day three. The babies are fully visible to the eye, and they are so cute. I love the way they swim in a strange herky-jerky way. There are at least twenty of them, and maybe thirty.
Here’s Baby Sea Monkeys: The Movie.
But their tank is so drab and boring. I can’t wait around for those Sea Diamonds–or whatever the hell they are–to arrive. I imagine an ornamental sunken pirate ship for them to explore for treasure. They’ll love it! I decide to go to Pet Smart.
I feel only a little silly as I walk through the parking lot, approaching the store. Families are walking in to buy food for their real pets, like Fido and Snowball, and I’m looking for a pirate ship for my Sea Monkey tank. As I wander the aisles, an associate asks me if I need help. I mention I’m looking for a pirate ship. She leads me to a large one that would be great for a forty gallon fish tank. No, I say, “this is a for a sea monkey tank. I need much smaller.”
“Oh,” she says. And that’s it.
Maybe I expected her to exclaim “Sea Monkeys!” and ask me their names. Or maybe compliment me on what a great idea it is to add ornamental figures to their tank. Maybe she’ll applaud me. Everyone else thinks their just primitive brine shrimp—no one ever thinks about what they might enjoy.
But instead, she just adds, “well that’s the only pirate ship we have.”
I thank her and tell her I’ll see if anything else catches my eye. There are not many ornaments to choose from that would fit in the small Ocean Zoo tank. But I settle on a small blue submarine. While not a pirate ship, the submarine is pretty cool. I’m not picky, and I don’t think they are either. I decide hot pink rocks would also look awesome lining the bottom of their tank.
Next, I need something to aerate the tank. Sea Monkeys are oxygen pigs and need air bubbles regularly blown into their tank. Once you start researching in depth, these little monkeys need things like regular aeration, medicine, and vitamins. Keeping brine shrimp as pets becomes an expense just like keeping any other pet. This is not advertised well on the packaging, nor is it explained much in the instructions–most likely because parents would back away slowly if they knew it was all this work.
There are several ways one can aerate the tank: purchasing the Million Bubbles Air Pump™ through the mail order form, which just looks like a crappy piece of plastic with a fancy name. Another method is to pour the Sea Monkey water back and forth between their tank and a clean glass. However, I’ve ruled out this method based on my inability to even pour coffee into a mug without spilling it. A crude method is to blow into the water through a straw—but be careful not to suck up, kids!
The straw method is the cheapest, and I picture myself blowing bubbles into the Sea Monkey home up to three times a day. Perhaps this could teach me another important Sea Monkey Lesson about love–perhaps the greatest Sea Monkey lesson of them all. Instead, I decide to look for an eye dropper or something else that would force air out by squeezing.
Another associate in Petsmart comes up to me to see if I need help. I explain I’m looking for a pet eye dropper.
“Yep, we sure do have those,” she says heartily, “what’s it for?”
She says nothing, and leads me to the droppers in silence. What is going on? Does Petsmart have a grudge against Sea Monkeys? Is it because I’m not with an adorable five year old girl clutching her Ocean Zoo tank next to me? Because it’s just me, wild-eyed and my hair unbrushed, at the Petsmart in old gym shorts and flip flops?
Day Four. I want to feed them but I can’t until day five. I want to feed them bad. I want their faces—if they have them—to beam and shine at me when I walk into the room, eagerly doing back flips for a pinch of food. But the instructions in the kit say no, that mis-feeding them will kill them. The instructions are like the mean mommy of this whole operation.
And there are a lot of instructions about what you can’t do. They’re like raising a Mogwai. You can’t place them in direct sunlight. You can’t feed them more than once a week. You can’t feed them anything other than their food. You can’t put them in a bigger tank. You’re not supposed to add non-Transcience approved things to their tank. Sea Monkeys are fragile, and not particularly resilient–not like goldfish, which can handle tons of abuse.
Day Five. I need a name for them. There are too many to keep track of individually, so I think I should name as an entity. The girlfriend suggests I call them the Hoopty Wagon, because the ornamental rocks and submarine in their plastic tank is like a 1994 Toyota dressed up with rims. I like it. The Hooptys.
Also on day five, I can finally feed them. Unbridled excitement. I carefully measure a scoop of the green-colored particles from packet number three, and drop it in. I expect them to all race towards the food and eat all of it immediately, but instead they just strangely flagellate around the tank, as though nothing has changed. I wish there was a way to command them. SEA MONKEYS…GO. That didn’t work. Um. Let’s try this. SEA MONKEYS…DO.
Sea Monkeys: The Movie Part 2. They’re bigger.
And so my experiences as a Sea Monkey parent continue. (It’s Day Eight, and I only have about seven Sea Monkeys currently alive.) I’m not sure how the others died, but I think it’s probably the pink rocks. And yet the seven that remain seem very hearty.
I just hope they live long enough until the Sea Diamonds and Bananas arrive in the mail. Otherwise, I’ll have to eat them myself. And if the girlfriend completely freaks over me eating Sea Monkey food, I’ll tell her to relax. It’s for the blog.