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'Swish', Beloved San Francisco Fish, Passes; 'He'd Rub His Body on Your Arms, Kind of Like a Dog'

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SAN FRANCISCO, California -- For nearly two decades, Swish the fish patrolled his front-window aquarium at a Chinatown restaurant, munching carrot sticks, greeting regular customers, getting a friendly head rub from the guys who kept his tank clean.

Until the day his tank at Kau Kau BBQ & Seafood Restaurant sprang a leak and employees arrived one morning in August to find the restaurant flooded and Swish, in his nearly depleted tank, alive but on his side.

The staff at Clayton Aquariums, which maintains fish tanks, had known Swish for most of his life. They nursed him for 11 days, but he died Aug. 15.

Swish, a platter-shaped pacu, was 30 inches, 32 pounds and at least 31 years old.

"It was so sad. We considered him a part of the family," said Richard Chang, who runs the restaurant with wife Lynn.

Native to South America, with their flat, circular shape and sharp teeth, pacu are commonly known as the "vegetarian piranha." Swish loved apples and carrots. On special occasions, the Kau Kau owners fed him grapes.

Restaurant regulars doted on Swish.

"He had a personality," says Gwen Rhomes, of Renton.

The loss was hard on the aquarium company workers.

"People would walk up to the aquarium and look in and he'd swim up and look back," said Peter Korch of Clayton Aquariums.

One of Swish's earliest homes was in an Enumclaw restaurant. Next came a tank at Seattle's Odessa Brown Children's Clinic, where the children reportedly gave the silvery fish his name.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Swish resettled at the Wharf Restaurant at Fisherman's Terminal where he made more friends.

When his tank needed servicing, technicians knew sticking their hands into the water also meant scratching Swish's head. "He'd rub his body on your arms, kind of like a dog," Korch recalled.

Restaurateur Wei Eng spotted Swish at an auction sale when the Wharf closed and moved the big fish into his Kau Kau restaurant in 1987.

"He just fell in love with him. Maybe it was his shape," daughter Lynn Eng Chang recalls.

Since Swish's death, the restaurant has collected about $500 — donations to a "Swish fund."

Now a $5,000 freshwater aquarium has been installed and a new pacu, believed to be about 3 years old and some 7 pounds, arrived last week. A Kau Kau customer donated him after the fish outgrew his Federal Way home.

"He swam over to look at me, and that's a good sign," Korch said. "He's a good fish. He's got the potential to be Swish II."

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