Mysteries of the AQ pond’s Koi fish revealed

A deep dive on all the fishy things going on in SFU’s infamous pond

We dem koiz | Photo: Chris Ho / The Peak

By: Jennifer Low, Peak Associate

 “The [AQ] Pond was not intended for fish”

SFU’s Academic Quadrangle (AQ) reflecting pond is a place for contemplation, deep reflection, and asking philosophical questions. However, it is mostly the site for wondering about the mysterious fish that sometimes grace the pond’s waters.

Photo: Chris Ho / The Peak

Where do the fish disappear to in the winter? Who takes care of the fish? Where do the fish come from? I always had numerous questions that no one seemed to know the answer to. When curiosity finally got the best of me, I decided to put my investigative journalism skills to use. After sending countless emails that went unanswered, I was finally directed to SFU’s Animal Care Facility Department, and then to Bruce Leighton, the aquatics technician in charge of caring for the fish. 

“The pond was not intended for fish,” Leighton states in an email interview with The Peak.  “The goldfish were abandoned pets from the students. The koi were a gift from an alumnus.”

Leighton elaborates, “Some of the biggest koi are over 50 years old. They reproduce in the spring and the goldfish are presently egg laying in the lily plants. The eggs adhere to the vegetation and hatch in 3-4 days. There are about 20 large koi and almost 1000 goldfish (not counting the 2 mm long newly hatched). This year we also found a large catfish in the pond.” 

A catfish is not the strangest thing to be found in the pond: previously, there have been cases of plastic chairs being abandoned there, and in October 2017, a car drove into the AQ reflecting pond. It has also become a rite of passage for SFU students to accidentally fall into the pond or perform stunts, such as the Engineering Science Student Society’s annual charity fundraiser, the Polar Plunge

In a Peak article written by Leighton back in 2008, he described finding “goldfish of every sort, a long eel-like catfish, and two large red-eared slider turtles.” Other finds included “trout, salmon, stickleback, a pair of black crappies, and a large oscar [fish] that had pigged out on all the young goldfish that year.” 

Photo: Chris Ho / The Peak

As interesting as it is to hear that goldfish and the catfish are thriving in the pond, in 2014 the Burnaby Now and The Peak wrote articles addressing the illegal dumping of unwanted pet fish into Burnaby lakes and ponds, including the AQ pond. It is important to be prepared for the responsibility of taking care of your pet and to remember that dumping animals puts the pond’s current residents at risk for disease and overpopulation. Rather than paying the $2,500 to $250,000 fine, don’t buy a fish if you are not able to care for it. 

According to Leighton, the SFU Animal Care Facility feeds the AQ fish until mid to late November, depending on the weather. The appetite of koi fish vary seasonally, but usually eat things like insects, algae, shrimp, store-bought fish food, and more. After this point the fish are largely dormant and have overwintered in the pond for the last 30 years that I have been caring for them.”  The fish ‘disappear’ again in May when the pond is routinely cleaned and the fish are moved to SFU’s Aquatic Facility for a few days to receive a health check and, if needed, treatment for fungus infections. 

And don’t worry! The fish do not freeze in the winter! 

According to Leighton, “We have never had any ice related mortalities, and these species produce natural antifreeze in their blood at low temperature that protect them from freezing.”

Photo: Chris Ho / The Peak

So what are the real dangers the koi fish are up against? Well, predators! Like seagulls, osprey, herons, kingfishers and possibly raccoons.

While plastic debris has only occasionally been removed from the mouth and gills of fish, Leighton states he has only encountered one koi fish death that was a little fishy. A necropsy revealed a number of cigarette butts in one fish’s gut. 

Overall, students should remember that the pond should never be used as a replacement for a trash can. There are trash and recycling receptacles located conveniently throughout campus so that our lovely reflecting pond can remain a happy home for all of our fish friends. 


“Things found in the AQ Pond” 

According to Leighton, these are “all the flotsam and jetsam of university life.” 

  • Running shoes (feet not included
  • One “really boring” diary
  • Three hockey pucks
  • 13 ducklings plus a female mallard
  • One hearing aid
  • An “alarming” number of condoms, tampons, and liquor bottles
  • A five pin bowling ball
  • Two pairs of glasses
  • A copy of Tess of the D’Ubervilles with an inscription that read, “She should have kicked him in the strawberries