Glass eyes for fish?!

Glass eyes made by the CMoG flameworking team.

Glass eyes made by the CMoG flameworking team.

The Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library exhibition at The Corning Museum of Glass’ Rakow Research Library is filled with objects and stories that inspire. In a previous blog post, I’ve written about the glass eyes that inspired our daily flameworked eye demo in the Museum’s Innovation Center. In the course of researching glass eyes for this demo, I happened across some interesting stories, and I’ll tell you about one that I find particularly curious and delightful.

We can imagine that the loss of or damage to a person’s eye can be quite disturbing, not only because of the loss of vision, but because it can lead to self-consciousness about one’s appearance while interacting with others. A good quality prosthetic eye can restore a person who has lost an eye to nearly normal appearance, and so is important for one’s emotional health. But who would think that a fish might need a glass eye? As it turns out, some rockfish who live in aquariums have developed eye health issues related to the water pressure in the tanks. Rockfish live for many years and, though they can survive well enough with a damaged eye, other fish in the tanks tend to bully them, perhaps because they perceive the blind eye as a weakness. The rockfish, intimidated by this aggressive behavior, become shy and spend their time hiding among the rocks and plants and avoiding interactions with the other fish.

At the Vancouver Aquarium, a rockfish with a prosthetic eye swims in its habitat.

At the Vancouver Aquarium, a rockfish with a prosthetic eye
swims in its habitat. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Aquarium,
an Ocean Wise initiative.

At the Vancouver Aquarium, where these fish reside, staff decided to give them glass eye implants. Of course, that doesn’t improve their vision and it’s hard for us to imagine they have an emotional attachment to how they look. But, with some help from colleagues at the Seattle Aquarium, restoring the rockfish to a more normal appearance stopped the bullying and the rockfish returned to their previous, more confident behavior.

As we’ve been performing our glass eye demo at the museum for most of a year, I’ve had the good fortune to meet several museum visitors with artificial eyes and I am so grateful for their willingness to share their stories and experiences with me and other visitors. I think there is a lovely poetic quality to the story of the rockfish as it reminds us to consider how we see the world and how we are seen by others in the world, whether we be people or fish.

Check out this video of the rockfish undergoing prosthetic eye surgery:


Video courtesy of Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative



Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library is on view at Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass through February 17, 2019. Learn more about the exhibition.

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Caitlin Hyde lives in Corning, NY, and has been making flameworked glass beads and small sculpture since 1996. She teaches workshops at The Corning Museum of Glass and across the country. Hyde’s background in illustration, textile design, and love of high contrast, rhythmic pattern are evident in her pictorial beads and assembled figurative work. “The desire to create and tell stories binds us together across time and space and culture,” says Hyde. “So I make beads about stories; not always overt in their meaning, but with the implication of narrative.”

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