Lawyer installs shark tank at office
Lawyer installs shark tank at office

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Bozeman lawyer Christopher Gillette covered his eyes Monday as a crane hoisted a 1,000-gallon aquarium through the second-story window of his new downtown office.

"I can't watch," he said, as half a dozen workers guided the roughly 8-foot-long, 4-foot-tall and 4-foot-wide tank into the space, causing passersby to stop and stare. Two lanes of traffic below the window, at 11 E. Main St., were closed briefly for the event.

Gillette plans to fill the tank with saltwater creatures, including venomous lionfish and a blacktip reef shark, which can grow as large as 5 feet long. When filled with water, the $23,000 tank will weigh about eight tons.

The aquarium will be one of the largest in the Gallatin Valley, said Tanner Young, owner of the company that designed and will maintain it, Crystal Clear Aquariums.

And Gillette's tank will be a sight for the world to see, easily and for free.

Cameras inside the tank will broadcast video of the sharks and other marine life over the Internet, allowing users to zoom in on particular areas, Young said. The tank is expected to be complete in February and the feature will be available at www.cjgillettelaw.com and www.ccaqua.com.

Gillette said plans for the shark tank started as a joke while he was designing his new office a few months ago.

"I said, 'What would it take to put a shark in a lawyer's office?' and it just kind of took off from there," he said. "The tank started getting bigger and bigger and then it was like 'Wait, we're not creating Sea World here. We've got to put a stop to it somewhere.'"

To support the tank's weight and ensure it wouldn't crash through the floor into the watch company below, engineers and architects reinforced the floor joists and created special structural supports.

The tank will hold a miniature marine ecosystem, with at least one creature brought in from an ocean far away.

The $2,000 blacktip reef shark will be netted from the Caribbean Sea and flown in on an airplane to Bozeman, Young said. It will start out about 2 feet long, but can grow to up to 4 or 5 feet long over about five years.

"When it grows big, we'll give it to a zoo," he said.

Gillette's aquarium also will be home to a bamboo shark that will be hatched from eggs in the tank. The bamboo shark can grow to about 2 1/2 feet long.

A Crystal Clear Aquarium representative will come by Gillette's office to feed the fish every week or every other week.

The sharks eat frozen vegetable blends, shrimp, squid, octopus and other fish, Young said. They'll also receive vitamin supplements. For the blacktip reef shark, the supplements cost $150 a month, he said.

The sharks and the lionfish, which has venomous spines that are deadly to prey, will not eat other fish in the tank if they're well fed.

"If it knows it's getting these awesome, huge chunks of meat, it won't waste the energy," Young said.

Gillette's tank also will contain lookdown, anthias, clown and angel fish, as well as sea anemone, 600 pounds of live rock and 500 pounds of live sand. Live rock and live sand harbor marine organisms such as corals, algae, and sponges.

Young said the chances are low that the sharks and other fish in Gillette's tank will die from the shock of being moved to the tank, but there are no guarantees.

Young will spend two weeks to a month readying the tank for the fish and the tank will be hooked up to a 24-hour computer-monitoring system that can automatically notify Young of changes in water quality or other problems.

Gillette, who practices family law, said the tank serves more than an aesthetic purpose.

There's something calming about fish that he hopes will help ease his clients who are often dealing with high stress situations such as divorce or child custody issues.

"I wanted to create an atmosphere where people would feel relaxed and be comfortable discussing very personal issues," Gillette said. "People seem to be comfortable with fish."

Clients had frequently commented on the beta fish that hung from the ceiling in small bowls in his current office, Gillette said. The tank in his new office will be built into a wall, viewable from both the front reception area and a conference room.

Gillette also plans to install four other fish tanks in the new office, two 72-gallon tanks and two 46-gallon tanks containing coral reefs, star fish and sea urchins.

"Anybody's welcome to come up and take a look," he said.

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