The Mysterious and Tragic Death of Barth the Betta

The Inside Scoop on Teacher James Sisk’s Betta Fish and Its Death


Hanna Grass, Writer

On Dec. 1 2021, senior Bailey Royalty purchased a brightly colored teal betta fish from PetSmart, unaware of the impact he would have on the lives of so many here at Central Hardin. He was adopted by a group of senior young ladies by the names of Maggie Phelps, Lilly Keith, Kylie Marcum, Bailey Royalty, and Hannah Martin who loved and cared for him like he was their own son. 

“His legal name is Bartholomeu, but we always called him Barth,” Marcum explained, teary eyed.

Barth, oftentimes mistakenly called Barf, resided in history teacher James Sisk’s fish tank, which had been home to a long line of both betta and feeder fish in prior years. As early as 2018, Sisk has welcomed fish into his classroom and invited students to take responsibility for their livelihood. There have been many ups and downs, but each one of those fish who once inhabited Room 110 holds a special place in Sisk’s heart.

“We started off with a couple of feeder fish and those were three sisters. And then we came in one day and one sister was floating and the other two sisters were hiding. So we think one of the sisters got bumped off…And then Rachel Price, who used to go here [Central Hardin], who’s now in pharmacy school, she got our first betta fish…that was Eugene. Eugene lasted a long time. He lasted a good two years,” Sisk explained. “And then we had Eddy Van Fish and Eddy didn’t do too hot. Eddy Van Fish came in, you know, during Covid right after Eddy Van Halen died, and Eddy Van Fish was so heartbroken he went to join Eddy Van Halen. So, he only lasted, oh I don’t know, about four or five months. He was pretty though; a pretty red one. And then we got Barth.”

Barth brought a sense of routine for the girls, as they would visit him each morning and tend to his needs, whether that be cleaning the tank or feeding.

“He made the classroom brighter,” Martin recounted.

Unfortunately, this brightness seemed to dull when Barth couldn’t be spotted on Sept. 21. From that time, up until his body was found that Friday, the girls were worried for Barth’s well-being. There are many theories as to what caused Barth’s death and who or what to blame. One of the most common suspects is Central’s permanent substitute, Blake Wheeler, who had inhabited Sisk’s room during times he was unavailable.

“His [Wheeler] negative energy just reflected off Barth. He always said that we should put more fish in there so it would be like a duel,” Martin hypothesized.

Other theories that extend beyond foul play involve the other tetra fish who shared the tank with Barth. They are fed a different type of fish food than Barth and many of the girls worry that it was the accidental ingestion of this nutrient that could have resulted in a poisoning.

“He might have been eating the tetras’ food. We noticed that Friday, all three of the snails were inside of the ship, which was unusual,” Marcum recounted. “And we hadn’t seen Barth in a while that morning, so I went to clean out the tank and I lifted up the ship and all the snails fell out and I’m pretty sure the snails had been eating on Barth for a few days because he was missing some gills. He was gray. He used to be a bright teal.”

Marcum found Barth’s corpse beneath “the moscow” inside the tank on Sep. 23. It was a tragedy. 

Due to the state of his body when found, it is believed that he may have potentially been dead since that Wednesday. According to Sisk, the tank had been in dire need of a cleaning that had continuously been put off that week. Many of the girls blame this procrastination on Marcum who was “in charge” of Barth’s sanitary requirements.

“I would like to put on record that cleaning that tank out, mostly by myself, is no easy feat,” Marcum said, in response to the accusations. “Also, we’ve got another dead fish as of right now. His tail got ripped off so he’s on the bottom of the tank flopping around.”

The inhabitants of Sisk’s aquarium seem to be dropping left and right, yet both the girls and Sisk himself have no plan to give up caring for fish. Sisk has his eyes on a few more feeder fish, as he thinks they look “kinda cool,” but Martin is interested in putting in a little more thought when it comes to filling the Barth-sized hole in the tank.

“Maybe not a Betta, but we plan on replacing him. I’m putting in some research,” Martin explained. “Wouldn’t say so called replacing, because no one can replace Barth.”

Although Barth may have only lived for about a year, his legacy will live on forever. Marcum, Phelps, Keith, Martin, and Royalty held a funeral service for Barth Sep. 23 in remembrance of his life and the joy he brought into their own. He was a great fish, and a part of the Bruin community, despite his aquatic nature. 

Barth, if you are reading this from fishy heaven above, we love you, we cherish the experiences we had with you, and we promise to carry on your memory onto future generations.