Opinion: Selling Baby Seahorses Is Wrong
It happens every so often. Someone discovers just how easily seahorses breed, but can’t raise the babies, or discover the expense and time it takes to raise seahorses and so they decide they can sell the seahorse fry and make some money doing it. Unfortunately, it’s a mistake and it ends badly for everyone but the seller.
To understand why selling seahorse fry is wrong, we need to look at what causes this situation. Seahorses breed extremely easily. It often only takes a male and female to have more baby seahorses that one knows what to do with every 14-30 days depending on the species. And seahorses sell for what could arguably be a lot of money, especially those raised in captivity.
The tricky part comes to raising them. For as easy as they are to get to breed, they are proportionately difficult to raise. They take a lot of hours, space, money and dedication to raise successfully. Most breeders just barely break even, and most do not have success their first time through.
You don’t see this in other fish species. But seahorse babies have the misfortune of being totally adorable replicas of their parents. Most marine species produce young that barely resemble a fish, let alone their parents. Seahorse looks just like a miniature version of mom and pop.
And so they are marketable. For the uninitiated, it looks like an inexpensive way to try their hand at seahorses. And they’re so cute, so why not?
The Ebay Seller
Late last night, I spotted someone on ebay listing seahorses less than 1 month old for sale. Their listing offered seahorses born on December 1st for sale at a price of $30 each, with shipping roughly around $30.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seahorse fry for sale, but it was still disappointing. The listing included highly deceptive language, making it sound easy to raise these seahorses, and fails to mention the work involved. It claims in bold:
“We are offering a rare opportunity to raise your very own Lined Seahorse from a Baby!
Order today before they are all sold!”
The earliest text starts out misleading. Seahorses are not rare, especially not H. erectus being sold here. It’s one of the easiest to breed as well.
The description itself creates the illusion that they’ll be easy to raise. (Emphasis mine.)
“Our Baby Lined Seahorses that are for Sale Here were born on December 1st 2014
They are currently hunting while hitched rather than free swimming most of the time, so they are strong and ready to be relocated to new homes.“
Experienced breeders know that this is not true. That the difficult phases of training to larger foods, is yet to come. It is also more costly, to do, either requiring live mysis, chopped mysis, (which can be surprisingly expensive in the context of raising seahorses) or enriched live adult brine shrimp. And on top of that, training a small number of young seahorses to eat frozen actually increases the difficulty.
“Difficult to maintain, but endlessly fascinating, the Lined Seahorse is very active and gentle. Lined Seahorses should be kept in a species only tank and do best with 4 or more to a tank. Our Baby Lined Seahorses eat tiny food such as live copepods and live baby brine shrimp. As they get older, they will need to be weened [sic] onto frozen mysis shrimp. This is done by overlapping the live food with frozen food during feedings and slowly increasing the amount of frozen food until the diet is 100% frozen.”
“They could also be housed in your refugium provided care is taken that they do not get sucked into any of the tubing. These are warm water Baby Lined Seahorses that won’t shock from typical saltwater aquarium temps! 76 – 84 degrees. Other species may be from cold water climates and will not acclimate to average tropical saltwater temps.”
The description here doesn’t give any detail to the amount of feeding required. In fact, the implied suggestion is that they can eat copepods that are naturally found in the aquarium or refugium. It doesn’t mention the multiple daily feeding, hatching and enriching brine shrimp or growing copepods in quantity which requires a large amount of space, lead time to get cultures up and going, and space dedicated to growing the copepods and their food. (I keep 20 culture containers on a large rack going to do this myself.) Dan Underwood of Seahorse Source explains the absolute staggering quantity of food needed in Foods for Breeding Syngnathids
“It is also important to note that fry can consume 1 to 2 food items per minute. Multiply that out for the daylight hours and you roughly need 1,000 food items per fry per day.”
I give the seller credit for saying they’re difficult to maintain. But then it’s completely undone by their description of care, purposefully suggesting that the work involved is simple. Even after I contacted the seller asking them to rethink selling them this young, their addition implies concerns over the work involved are overblown:
“Please be aware that some seahorse dealers and websites advise against purchasing or selling seahorses at less than 3-5 months of age. Their concern is that seahorse babies may be too difficult to care for by the common aquarist. It is true that baby seahorses are much more difficult to care for than mature seahorses but it is possible for the educated and experienced aquarist to care for baby seahorses and we believe that they should be permitted the opportunity. Please carefully research about the care of baby seahorses before placing your purchase. Just as we have very little experience with caring for our human babies when they are born to us, we also need to carefully consider the care for baby seahorses also. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us and we will be glad to help in any way possible.”
Sadly, seahorse fry are not human babies, and we don’t come with a instinctive blue print on how to raise them.
Most Will Die
Most of these seahorses will die. As I said above, raising seahorses is difficult. Most people can’t do it their first time through. Those that do generally have extensive experience with other difficult fish species or have researched until they know every detail of what can go wrong. Those same people know that purchasing a seahorse fry is costly and seahorses do breed quite freely. Paying for fry when they could purchase parents that will continually produce babies makes more sense for the aspiring breeder.
And that’s why seahorse fry won’t appeal to them. Selling seahorse fry is strictly something that is meant to appeal to the unaware and uninitiated. They will end up in the hands of aquarists that don’t know how to feed them. Won’t know the number of hours in a day to feed them, or that they even need specialty food. Won’t know they need a special nursery aquarium. This most recent ebay listing went so far to suggest they can be kept in a refugium. Refugiums aren’t even suitable for adult seahorses.
Shipping is especially difficult on young seahorses because they need to be fed so frequently. The 24 hours in shipping is enough time to cause issues with starvation and weakness. It’s something that is generally done as a last resort (fostering seahorse fry) and is with it’s dangers. After prolonged periods without food, their body will actually start to consume fat, then muscle to fuel their growth.
This isn’t always something that can be recovered from even in the best circumstances. The ebay listing in question glosses over the feeding requirements. Baby brine shrimp needs to be hatched and enriched, a process that alone takes an hour a day. For $60, you can purchase a seahorse that will cost you a couple hundred in supplies and a couple hours a day of work. Or can be placed into a refugium where they will starve due to inadequate food.
I contacted the seller in hopes of changing their mind. Their response was to add a small disclaimer I included and it does not even begin to articulate the difficulty and expense of raising baby seahorses. (You can see it here.) It’s inadequate and it doesn’t even begin to cover the real extent of the work or cost involved. It’s both harmful to the seahorses being sold and the potential buyers. I’ve spoken out many times about not selling seahorses before sexual maturity. This is probably the most egregious example I’ve seen in a long time. I hope they reconsider.