Seahorse Deathtrap

By: | Date: 08/09/2012 | 1 Comment |
The seller of this aquarium kit eventually listened to public concern and took some advice from breeders, including myself, on how to make a kit that was suitable for seahorses. However, it was an unsustainable model and they went out of business a short time later. I am keeping this here as a cautionary tale, as this is unfortunately not an unusual tale.



Fab.com is featuring a seahorse aquarium with seahorse for $450. It’s sleek, and stylish, and has a built in filtration system. That sounds great, right? It’s not.

The aquarium is an 8 gallon nano tank. It’s being presented as being designed by a company called “Serene Seahorse Systems”. The problem is that it is far too small for the seahorses being offered with it. H. erectus, which are native to the US, get to 6 inches, and some particularly burly ones will top out at 8 inches.

The tank itself was design for keeping nano-reefs, which often don’t contain any fish because of their size. A pair of mature H. erectus should be kept in no less than a 30 gallon aquarium.  An 8 gallon is so small that it is going to be impossible to keep the water stable as seahorses are just messy eaters, and will end up creating toxic conditions that can kill the inhabitants. Seahorses produce a lot of waste and need a high-efficiency filter. Frequent water changes, what the company recommends, will help, but will be enough over the long haul.


Serene Seahorse Systems

Great Nano Reef, Terrible Seahorse Tank


It is presented as a tank specially designed for seahorses by Serene Seahorse Systems, but a little research and I found that the actual manufacturer is a different company Innovative Marine, and the tanks, the Nuvo 8, are purpose built for something else. They were never meant to be seahorse aquariums. But the owner of Serene Seahorse Systems told me that they saw seahorses in one of these aquariums at a trade show. I assume that is the genesis of the idea. Unfortunately, a trade show often does things like this in order to attract buyers, it in no way should be considered a suggestion.

The aquarium is also going to be difficult to keep cool because of it’s size. H. erectus are subtropical, and do best at temperatures below 74. In the wild they get warmer, but home aquariums produce a lot of bacteria, and seahorses are especially susceptible to infections.

The coral they include with their kit is also a problem. The closed holes in it mean that seahorses are going to get stuck. A few years ago, a coral like this was frequently caused problems for members on various forums. The seahorse would try and swim through the hole and get stuck, and either had to be cut out or perished before aquarists noticed what was happening. Everything about this setup is going to end up with sick and dead seahorses.

When confronted with the problem with their kit, Serene Seahorse System insist that they tested these aquariums with seahorses “for years”, but the aquariums have only been on the market for less than a year.

And buyers remorse is sure to be a problem –  Serene Seahorse Systems, and by extension Fab.com,  is extremely misleading about the amount of work required. Are seahorses impossible to keep? No, me and many other aquarists do it successfully. But they do require a bit of work and dedication. They have to be fed frozen food 2-3 times a day, without exception. For many people this means a change in lifestyle, especially when it comes to travel. You can’t leave your seahorses more than a day without food, and only infrequently. Pet sitters you can trust to feed but not overfeed the seahorses are hard to find, planning vacation care is a constant problem that comes up in several online aquarium communities.

Seahorses take dedication, and they’re being sold as an easy-to-care-for piece of art. They aren’t. I love seahorses but the dedication required isn’t for everyone. Read about some of the things you should know before keeping seahorses. Fab.com provides none of this information. Serene Seahorses has finally added some acknowledgement to their site, though they lay the responsibility on the consumer to learn more, which does nothing to mitigate the fact that the whole kit is designed to fail.

I’ve contacted the company along with fab.com with my concerns, and they have not been receptive to any type of criticisms or suggestions. I have pushed for some credentials for how much they actually know about seahorses, and all I’ve gotten back is that they are “very knowledgeable.” without any specifics. The owners LinkedIn profile shows nothing to support any aquarium expertise; their specialty seems to be dog products. When confronted with the notion that the aquariums are too small, they suggest that customers can upgrade to larger tanks that they sell. But none of this information is provided at the time of sale. And their larger tanks are overpriced. This could leave the customer on the hook for hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars to upgrade.

I’ve also tried to contact fab.com in an attempt to get them to remove the listing, but they repeatedly refer to support for Serene Seahorse Systems and argue that there are competing theories on keeping seahorses. Which, in fairness is true, but none of them include such tiny aquariums. It would be like selling kittens in shoe boxes and saying that they could live in that forever.

Several other people have complained about this product on Fab.com’s facebook page. They refuse to do anything about it, other than lie about the requirements needed. A letter to the CEO remains unanswered.

There was a company in Australia several years ago that sold seahorse kits along with live seahorses, and claimed that the seahorses only lived 6 months and would eat flake food. The seahorses, which should live as long as 10 years, were dying of starvation. This product is on course to have similar problems.

If you find this page and are thinking about getting this aquarium; don’t. You can keep seahorses successfully, but this is not how. Do some research and talk to aquarists to get a properly setup seahorse aquarium. If you’re coming to this page after running into trouble wit this aquarium, know that you didn’t do anything wrong; but were mislead by the company. You can make changes to create the right environment for your seahorses.

Seahorse Adventures also has some things to say these seahorse aquariums.

Edit: Aug 10th, 2012 10:39am. Serene Seahorse Systems has now posted their care guide online. http://www.sereneseahorses.com/care This is a great start, and I’m glad that they’re listening to at least some of the feedback. However, the care guide also includes a lot of bad information, such as recommending seahorses can be fed a diet of enriched brine shrimp. Brine shrimp is fine as a treat or to give some variety to their diets, but seahorses really need something more nutritious. Most people use frozen mysis shrimp, and in fact, people didn’t start really having success with seahorses in aquariums until frozen mysis was available. And it’s not hard to find, most big chains like petco and petsmart carry at least one brand of frozen mysis.

There is also some poorly phrased and confusing information about only using freshwater (RO, or Reverse Osmosis) for doing water changes:

“You should test the water every week, or twice a week (yes, a lot of time committment). If the tests are 0, then we recommend a regular 25% water change (take out 25% of the water and refill with new water) as your weekly maintenance care.
You can do this weekly water change with just RO water. Why not use salted water?

You do not need to mix salt into the RO water for this weekly 25% change. Why? Because your tank’s water evaporates and the salt is left behind and the water salinity starts to increase. Check the sality level wiht your hydrometer (see Salinity section in Care Guide). When you add RO water you are diluting the salinity. It is easy to do these weekly water changes if you keep some RO water on hand. We usually recommend getting a 5 gallon jug from your local grocery store.

You should never change out saltwater tank for fresh water. The handbook appears to confuse water changes and topping off evaporated water. If you do water changes with freshwater, you will eventually dilute the saltwater to be deadly for marine animals. But if you are a novice, as this kit is aimed at, and don’t know much about aquariums, trusting the supplied literature is just going to end the life of the seahorses kept within.

Follow Up

The owner at Serene Seahorse Systems eventually heard the public outcry. (And it was loud!) They had initially spoke to the manufacturer of the aquarium, who swore that not only could seahorses be kept in such a small aquarium, but that their customers had been keeping them in 4 gallon aquariums. But the large number of people who spoke up both on social media and contacting fab.com, Serene Seahorse Systems spoke to the breeder that was going to supply them with seahorses who also confirmed there were significant problems with their kit. They decided to use captive bred dwarf seahorses instead. I even spoke with them, and helped them correct the mistakes in their handbook. They still ended up going out of business a few months later.

I had initially removed this article, because Serene Seahorse Systems was (eventually) willing to try and listen to the advice of experienced aquarists and make changes. But they’ve long gone out of business, and I want to keep this as a record of just how badly seahorse kits can be. It seems like every few years, a company comes out with a seahorse kit, but inevitably it’s not really suited for seahorses.

I do think there is room for a well designed all-in-one seahorse kit, but so far it hasn’t been developed. I’ve personally racked my brains trying to come up with a system, but have not been able to come up with a design I was happy with. Still, I’m sure it’s out there. However, if you’re looking for a seahorse kit or all-in-one tank to support seahorses, be sure to carefully research and ensure that it actually works for seahorses. Someone involved in developing it needs to be an aquarist that’s been keeping seahorses for a long time and the aquarium needs to be tested with seahorses over an extended period of time. Anything less, it’s either designed by incompetence or fraud.

Leave a Reply

Read previous post:
Hippocampus fisheri
First Rearing of the Hawaiian Seahorse, Hippocampus fisheri at the Waikiki Aquarium

Encouraged by success raising H. erectus, the Waikiki Aquarium decided to attempt the captive culture of the “Hawaiian” seahorse H....

Close
Read previous post:
Hippocampus fisheri
First Rearing of the Hawaiian Seahorse, Hippocampus fisheri at the Waikiki Aquarium

Encouraged by success raising H. erectus, the Waikiki Aquarium decided to attempt the captive culture of the “Hawaiian” seahorse H....

Close