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Mechanical toys are small fish in a big pond
5th June, 2006

It's summer, and time to fill your pool with novelty items.
When a public relations rep called about mechanical fish that could bring your pool or pond to life, it was hard to imagine.

Battery operated fish? The purpose would be ... catch and release?

For the most part, fish are pretty to look at, despite the bodily mess they make. But they don't do tricks like, say, a dolphin or seal. Some fish seem to die for no reason. So maybe mechanical fish would be the way to go.

Co-workers, including myself, were curious about these battery-operated fish.

Swimways Corp. sells two fish and a turtle in a bubble-wrap package. I tested them in the pool and koi pond at a friend's house.

"They might make great decoys for heron," said my pal Rima Bostick, explaining that the water foul are fond of dining on the fish in residential ponds.

Bostick unscrewed the cover to the battery chamber on the larger 10-inch-long plastic Clown Fish. A little button next to the battery box activated the tail fin on the plastic fish and the legs on the turtle. In the water, they floated upright and tootled in one direction until they came in contact with the side of the pool and then moved off in another direction. The turtle didn't turn on its own and needed help.

In the pool, the fish didn't work well with the filter on. Once caught up in the swirling jet, they either stayed in place or migrated to the opening for the filter.

To our surprise, when we tried them in the pond, the real fish followed them around. However, they weren't particularly well-suited to this environment. They kept getting caught up on the pond's rocky edges and didn't have enough power to move through the lily pads.

Bostick's assessment: "They're neat, but I'll stick with my real fish."

Verdict: A miss if you wanted to use them in place of real fish in your pond, but probably a fun toy for kids (ages 5 and up) in a pool.

How much: $19.43 including tax, but not including the four AA and two AAA batteries needed to power them.

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