Sabotage is suspected in the death of over half the fish that were stored at Physical Plant Management in preparation for their move from the former botanical garden habitat to a new pond.
Tom Brown, executive director of Physical Plant Management, was visibly upset as he described the circumstances surrounding the loss of the fish, some of which had been in CSUN’s care since before the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Approximately 20 fish died over the 4th of July weekend.
“This isn’t the first time we’d done this,” he said, explaining that some of the fish had been stored temporarily when they’d been moved 10 years ago from the reflection pool that was in front of Bayramian Hall. After the earthquake, the reflection pool was replaced by the sundial that’s there now.
A leaky joint in the water discharge pipe attached to the temporary storage tank caused the loss of more than 90 percent of the tank’s water. This lowered the water level enough to make the aeration pump ineffective and increased the temperature of the water enough to be deadly for the fish, a mixture of koi, carp and a few more exotic varieties.
Mike Whiteman, a 25-year employee of PPM, learned of the loss when he returned to work on July 9 after a short vacation.
While Brown was careful about labeling the leaky pipe a result of foul play, Whiteman believes it was definitely an act of sabotage.
“When I left on Tuesday, everything was fine,” Whiteman said.
He pointed out the leaky joint, saying that vibration could not have loosened it enough to cause such a massive leak.
“It could have been kids,” Brown said.
Brown described the circumstances that, to him, make the loss suspicious, and said only two days after his discovery of the leak and dead fish, Animal Control officers showed up to investigate. This, coupled with the fact that the Sundial was notified anonymously of the loss shortly thereafter, leads him to believe that someone may have wanted to discredit PPM or CSUN.
He said he’s suspicious of anonymous calls, especially when they come so close in time to the actual event.
Both Brown and Whitener described the painstaking efforts made to keep the fish healthy in their temporary environment.
The tank was fitted with a waterproof rubber liner, a substantial filtration system and an ultraviolet algae-killing unit. While the fish inhabited the tank, it was covered with raised canvas canopies to keep it shady. The leaky joint was the kind found at the end of most common gardening hoses.
Both Capt. Scott Vanscoy and Sgt. Dana Archer of the Campus Police confirmed that the act was under investigation.
Brown said the surviving fish had been donated to two new locations, a gated community nearby and a large pond in Santa Clarita.
He is upset about the loss, explaining that several of them had been added to the pond to commemorate colleagues that had either passed away or were no longer working there.