RayJay’s Thoughts On Seahorse Keeping

By: | Date: 11/08/2009 | 1 Comment |
Seahorse Aquarium

Seahorse aquarium with H. barbouri and H. angustus

As I’ve had numerous occasions to explain my thoughts on seahorse keeping, I figured it best to put this on my website to save repetitious posting.

Seahorse keeping can be fraught with numerous problems which can be mitigated somewhat by following certain recommendations as noted by the many posters on seahorse.org.

Unfortunately, there are too many hobbyists like me that figure they are going to be the one to do what so many others can’t, namely, keep seahorses in reefing conditions. (that’s especially true of long term reefers)

A few have great success in so doing, but, the majority of seahorses sold in stores, perish within about a year or less.

I started keeping seahorses in early fall of 2005 after having been a member of seahorse.org for over three years.
As mentioned, I tried to do it in reefing conditions albeit in a species tank.

I kept my H. Reidi seahorses in a tank at the room temperature of my basement which due to the numerous salt water tanks, brine shrimp culture tanks, and approximately 130g of phyto production, keep my basement temperatures around 78 ° to 80 ° in winter. In summer, that rises to well over 80 °.

When summer arrived, so did the first of my problems. I lost a seahorse and couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Then another got tail rot which I spent a lot of money on meds to save.

Reason for problems is almost always due to temperatures of 75 ° and above.

While seahorses kept in aquariums are normally found in waters ballparked around 80 °, the bacteria in those waters is not contained in any way. In aquariums, we have captive, inherent bacteria that seahorses are extremely susceptible to, like vibrio to name probably the worst.

At temperatures of 75 ° and above the bacteria multiply exponentially so that the seahorses most times cannot deal with it using their immune systems, and they die or become damaged as a result. My female never produced eggs again after this bout from 3 summers ago. I lost her the following summer when temps got too high again, along with the replaced male I purchased.

Another thing I did was to purchase pipefish and placed them in the tank with the seahorses.

To make the story short, I ended up losing the pipefish and some of the adult Reidi’s.

There is a protocol to use to lessen the chance of problems arising from mixing the syngnathids but it is no guarantee of success.

The problem stems from an inability of most seahorses to be able to handle pathogens they haven’t been exposed to while growing up.

When introduced to others with differing pathogens, the immune systems of both types may be compromised to the point where one type or both, will succumb to the pathogens of the other.

Keeping the seahorses at a lower specific gravity DOES NOT remedy this problem.

There is a slim chance that you may introduce something that has only the same pathogens that your existing seahorse has, or, that your existing seahorse may be able to handle the new pathogen(s), but it is just that, a slim chance.

A year ago, I set up another tank and purchased H. Angustus and H. Barbouri true captive bred tank raised sourced from Seahorse Sanctuary in Australia.
I lost all but one female Angustus when the heat got up this summer.
It has taken a lot to get through my skull but I will now keep the seahorses at temperatures below that 75 °.

Most seahorses purchased from stores are NOT true captive bred tank raised using hobby salt water or properly filtered/treated ocean water, although they are labeled captive bred and/or tank raised.

Originally, most seahorses were wild caught and with the extensive pathogens they inherently carried plus they needed live food made them a very low success rate purchase. These are still being sold.

Next came “NET PEN” raised seahorses where seahorses have been raised in nets but still in open water and subjected to the same pathogens that wild caught have. These are still being sold and many times advertised as captive bred

The only advantage was that they have been usually, but not always, trained to eat frozen foods.

Now, seahorses many times are cultured in cement vats/containers using re-circulatory systems, as many Vietnamese growers are doing, but still, the water used MOST times is usually untreated or not properly filtered ocean water, even though they are not flow through systems. Again, many times these are sold as captive bred

Complicating matters is the fact that there are offshore breeders using appropriate methods and feeding but it’s VERY hard to find out the true source of seahorses being sold so it’s very difficult to know if you are purchasing a true captive bred. Again, the only advantage is that they eat frozen foods most times.

Stores selling these seahorses have been told that they are captive bred and/or tank raised, which while technically it can be true statements, is misleading hobbyists into thinking they are purchasing a recommended seahorse.

THEY ARE STILL RAISED IN OCEAN WATER that has not been properly filtered and treated and fed on foods not properly cultured/sterilized!!!

While these seahorses are sold for much less than those NOT grown in suitable ocean water, is the cost worth it when you stand a much greater chance of losing the seahorse?

Seahorse.org members recommend buying only TRUE captive bred stock raised in water made from commercial salts, or in ocean water that is properly filtered and treated. Also, live foods used need to be cultured or properly treated as well. Seahorses raised this way will very much decrease the chance of major pathogenic problems arising.

I have been fortunate enough to acquire seahorse fry from another fellow hobbyist and have been able to raise them to the 14th month mark now, and the temperatures have been maintained at 72 ° to 74 ° for the duration. I had to have an air conditioner pointed right at the nursery but it has been doing remarkably well in growing these H. Reidi fry.

To summarize my thoughts:

  • Number ONE recommendation is to buy ONLY
    true captive bred stock.
  • Number TWO recommendation is to keep a species only tank for best chances of success.
  • Number THREE recommendation is to keep water temperatures in a range of 68 ° to 74 °F to minimize effects of bacteria on the susceptible seahorses.
  • Number FOUR recommendation is to not mix syngnathid species, again, to increase the odds of success.

I have purchased some Vietnam H. comes tigertail seahorses as well as some of their H. kuda.

Because they likely come from unsuitable ocean water I had to put them through a fairly long and expensive treatment to take care of the pathogens they have been found to carry, coming from untreated ocean water.
None of the Kuda survived the treatment, and two of the comes are still with me and doing fine.
Reports on the org [editor’s note Seahorse.org] show survival hasn’t been all that good for most of these cheap asian imports.

I also purchased 5 erectus again said to be captive bred but I couldn’t confirm that and I lost two of these in doing the deworming process.

My Husbandry For Seahorse Tanks

Don’t get me wrong on this but there are many many systems out there successfully run with sandbeds of various depths, live rock, planted tanks, and with a variety of tank companions.
However, because I PERSONALLY experienced problems long term, I looked for outs to give me a better chance of success.

Do I really need to go as far as I am at this point? I can’t say. However, I want to be sure to start off the best I can eliminating as many variables as possible and then we’ll see how things go from there. It is a long term plan, with no schedule in site for modifications at this time.

I redid all my tanks, and each new tank brought online goes through the same regime.

Tank and equipment an artificial hitches were all sterilized and the live rock was boiled for one hour after coming to a boil. Systems are cycled using ammonium chloride.

I have a sump for every tank and have put almost all the rock in the sumps, originally because I was always teed off at trying to view my seahorses but they were always behind rockwork it seemed. Now, I’m glad I did it because it means less accumulation of detritus around the base of rocks and between rocks for better bacteria control.
I have a lot of seahorses with some that will eat out of a feeding dish, but others that will not, so I gave up on the dishes and feed the water column.

I like to have a Hagen 802 power head with quick filter attachment (using a fluval filter instead of the proper quickfilter for economy) and this picks out the smaller waterborne particles that don’t get eaten and decay faster, providing fuel for nuisance algae. It also gives an area of higher flow than the return pump provides, giving the seahorses a better range of flow to choose from.

I also like to have a very small powerhead like the Aquarium Systems mini jet 404, that provides circulation ONLY when the feeding is being done, keeping the food in suspension better.

I have a timer to shut off the return pumps AND the Hagen 802’s for 3/4 of an hour to feed three times a day, so that the filter isn’t picking up the food while the seahorses are feeding, and the food isn’t carried into the sump via the overflow.

When the timer comes on, the minijet shuts down and the return pumps and power heads start up and it filters out the micro particles.

I vacuum the bottom once daily unless I’m away and not feeding, and clean the power head filters every two days to lessen the chance of decay to the point of adding nutrient to the water column.

Once every 7 or 8 days I shut off the return pump and clean down the sides and bottom of the inside of the tank and let the Hagen quickfilter remove the residue from the water column, cleaning the filter about 2 hours afterwards. I do a 10% water change at that time. Every five or six weeks I do a major 75% water change when doing the clean down, and also remove the hitches one at a time for proper cleaning of any adherent scum that might accumulate.

I don’t know if it is of any help or not, but I put 2 cups of carbon in a filter bag and suspend it under the output from the overflow for a reasonable flow through. I change this out once a month.

I know it’s a lot, but at this point all I’m concerned with is not loosing any more horses and if this helps it is worth it to me.

One Response to “RayJay’s Thoughts On Seahorse Keeping”

  1. Sharyn Gillin Says:

    Atter reading your valued information…it definately empowers my motivation to do regimented water changes and definately have turned down my heater down to a safe comfortable heat of 22 Celsius. .to aid with bacterial problems..

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