It's no bait-and-switch scam: a California company has deployed a crack team of Bluegill fish to guard the US' drinking water from potential terror attacks.
Intelligent Automation Corp says its "IAC 1090 Intelligent Aquatic BioMonitoring System" has already been bought by New York and San Francisco city authorities to monitor water supplies to their populations.
It works by diverting water samples from a river or reservoir through a small aquarium containing eight Bluegill fish which patrol round the clock for potentially lethal water-borne dangers.
The system, developed in partnership with US Army scientists at Fort Detrick in Maryland, is about the size of a large suitcase and can be set up on a table.
The small, brownish-colored Bluegills are not demanding security guards, but IAC vice president Bill Lawler says the fish are well looked after when they are on duty.
"The idea is to keep the fish very happy. They're enclosed in the aquarium with a light on inside and the temperature of the water is controlled so it's always constant," Lawler said by telephone from IAC's headquarters in Poway, California.
"There's no man-made sensor, so I'm told by the Army scientists, that can detect toxicity, which is why the fish are great," he said.
The system's computer can be configured to alert officials remotely of a potentially hazardous chemical in the water supply by phone or e-mail, or even set up to shut off a water supply.
"We've had interest from a number of different places, including from outside the United States," Lawler said.
He said the Bluegills usually serve two-week shifts before being rotated out for a rest.