Opinion: Selling Baby Seahorses Is Wrong

By: | Date: 12/23/2014 | 10 Comments |
Seahorse fry by pencil eraser

Seahorse baby being sold far to young in a listing on eBay.

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.

Unethical

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.

Images and text used under Fair Use as criticism and commentary.

 


 

Update 1/19/2015: Louise Hines of Seahorse Adventures sent over a tip. It turns out the pictures used in these ads are not even the pictures from the company selling the seahorses. They come from the Virginia Living Museum. In addition to some unethical selling practice as it relates to animal husbandry, the company is now grabbing whatever images they want to falsely represent their product. Thanks, Louise!

10 Responses to “Opinion: Selling Baby Seahorses Is Wrong”

  1. Jami Huneke Says:

    KUDOS to you Tami, for writing such a well thought out, informative,and REALISTIC commentary on the inhumane practice this seller is engaged in. In keeping seahorse myself , you are completely correct in that this sale is geared toward the uninformed impulse buyer. After educating myself in the requirements of rearing the fry my pair produced, it was clear to me that it was an undertaking I was unprepared for . I chose to pass them to another hobbyist that was equipped to dedicate the time and effort they require. Sadly you are right in that these are likely( certainly) doomed being sold so young. I hope that they take your input to heart , and handle these fry in a more responsible manner. Thank you for sharing , and for being a positive influence, in what I have found ( locally at least) to be a rather selective , small ( and a little nuts! Lol) group of seahorse enthusiasts 🙂

    Well done!!

    Jami Huneke

  2. Louie Says:

    Wow well said Tami. … people just don’t know or bother to do homework…

  3. chris f Says:

    Very nice article

  4. Elaine Brandt Says:

    Tami, thank you for putting so many hours of your valuable experience online for of us novicies, to make good decisions for our seahorses. Mike and I take all this information into consideration before purchasing. I disagree with breeders using ebay as a sale format. Ebay is a useful tool to bring your product to the public. Don’t blame Ebay, there are unreputable sellers everywhere. It is our the hobbyist responsibility to research the seller’s background and purchase responsibly. Thanks to you, and your Fb page, I am learning and have had limited success with my seahorse only tank.

  5. Andre Says:

    I also stumbled across this listing- and was appalled but what can only be a person with little or no knowledge of keeping and breeding Sea-Horses. Since I do not live in the States we are often the receivers of young, juvenile and small seahorses from Asian country’s. It kills me to have to inform the trader that he can not sell nor even expect to raise the ponies. This year alone I added approx. 90 ponies to my own hatchery, poor survival, high demand and a list of parasitic infections. If you live in the States, in Europe or in Australia I can supply you with the highest quality Captive breeders contact details. The best is they won’t cost anything close to E-bays listing either

  6. erectus1 Says:

    Your message to them was much nicer then the one I sent. I was ticked off and angry that they totally disreguarded the fact that 99% will die. Even experienced breeders lose fry…newbies have no idea and it just breaks my heart knowing they don’t have a chance.

  7. Annette Says:

    Hello,
    I am a representative of UniqueSalesOnline. I have become aware that this article has been posted in reference to our selling baby seahorses on eBay. This is our public response to the article.

    The author describes the following as “deceptive language”:

    “œWe are offering a rare opportunity to raise your very own Lined Seahorse from a Baby!
    Order today before they are all sold!”

    We did not claim that seahorses are rare or that seahorses don’t breed easily as the author has suggested. However, the opportunity to purchase a baby seahorse is rare. The author should know that they are not often listed for sale. This is most likely because many breeders have a hard enough time just keeping a few alive, let alone keeping enough alive to sell to anyone and guarantee their safe arrival and even offer a “One Month in your Tank Survival Guarantee!!!” which we offer fearlessly.

    The author then quoted the following:

    “œOur 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.”

    The author placed emphasis on the following text:

    “…they are strong and ready to be relocated to new homes.”

    Is the author attempting to state that this is also “deceptive language”? We have actually mentioned this because the babies are most delicate when they are just born at which time they normally do not even hitch to anything to hunt as an adult would. Our seahorses are now beyond this stage and we would not attempt to sell any seahorse at the newborn stage.

    The author then mentions the difficulty of weaning the babies onto larger frozen foods as though the above quoted text made that sound somehow easier. This is not true of course.

    The author then quoted a few other selections from our listing and assumed that we implied that seahorses can eat naturally occurring copepods from a simple refugium. If the reader has done their research about rearing baby seahorses they know that this is not possible in most systems. We encourage all of our customers to do their research first before purchasing any animals from us.

    The author also stated that we did not mention the multiple daily feedings and so forth that are required for seahorse babies. Again, this is research that the buyer should do first before placing an order for any type of fish that they wish to keep. The author should know this.

    The author mentioned that we do not have instincts to know how to care for seahorse fry like our own babies in response to a quoted text from our listing. This is true but honestly, how many parents are there out there who do not know when to wean their babies from milk to food that they must chew? Most parents will ask their doctor first before making that change and many other changes also. That is our point. Please read the quote from our listing again below:

    “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.”

    The author then goes out on a limb and prophesies that most of the baby seahorses that we sell will die. This is another assumption, because the author does not know any of our customers even so much as by name. They have no way to prove whether or not their prophesy will ever come true.

    The author further goes on to say that anyone with experience will not be interested in purchasing our baby seahorses. This is also very untrue. We just had a customer purchase a few of our baby seahorses who is currently keeping Dwarf Seahorses successfully and has raised baby seahorses to adulthood in the past. They offered this information when placing their order with us. They sound pretty experienced to me.

    Some folks may already have adult seahorses but not specifically this species. This type of person would also be a great example of a person who might be interested in purchasing this other species as babies and raise them themselves.

    The author suggested that we were trying to convince our customers that an adult seahorse could be housed in a refugium. This is also untrue. The author needs to re-read our listing.

    The author then mentions that 24 hours in shipping can cause starvation issues. This is true. However the author again is making an assumption here. Actually we take special precautions against this and have been 100% successful to date.

    Again the author then suggests that we “glosses over the feeding requirements” As mentioned above, we encourage our buyers to first do their research about caring for baby seahorses before placing an order.

    The author did not post any link to our actual webpage so that their readers could read our entire listing and decide for themselves about our intent. This is probably done because it would be very hard then to make their case. Please feel free to read our listing in its entirety by typing “Baby Lined Seahorse Tank Bred and Raised” in the ebay search bar.

    I’m fairly sure that the author would not like us to place a link here to the listing because they are effectually in business as our competition. They have even sold live seahorses on eBay in the past! Yes, I did my research about that.

    The bottom line is that selling baby seahorses is not inherently wrong as the author seems to suggest. It is also not inherently wrong to sell an adult seahorse either. But you know, both can do well or die at the hands of the wrong person.

    As we are concerned that this article is little more than an attempt to bring traffic to the owner’s website this will be our only public reply on this site to this article. fusedjaw.com is registered to Tami Weiss (the author of this article).

    To complete my public response to this article, I would like to say that we hold the good people associated with fusedjaw.com (including the owner) with utmost respect and gratitude because they have done quite a lot to contribute to the awareness and safety of seahorses. We take this opportunity to extend a warm handshake as a fair competitor and coworker in the same field!

    With our Kindest Regards,
    Annette

  8. walterhaas99@gmail Says:

    that’s insane who would do this?

  9. TamiW Says:

    Thank you for responding, Annette. However, I think your company is still ethically wrong for selling these seahorses. And I think you do too.

    I also see that you have raised the price and are now selling them for $40; just shy of what someone would pay for a properly sized seahorse.

    I have been fighting against seahorses being sold too young for a long time now. It’s far too common to see too-young seahorses offered for sale in fish stores, and those seahorses have a very low survival rate. You’ve now lowered the bar further.

    You are trying to use weasel-words to defend your position and hide behind intentionally vague language. You could have EASILY updated your ebay listing to include more specific and helpful information on the work involved in raising seahorses 3 weeks since you posted your response. Claiming you only said it was a “rare opportunity” and not that seahorse fry are rare is using highly deceptive language, especially to those uninitiated and unfamiliar with seahorses. Only the sale of seahorses at that age is rare – because ethical breeders would not sell seahorses that young.

    The specious claim that you’re just giving buyers the opportunity to get a different species falls flat on review. The Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus is one of the most commonly available species in the US. If someone wants to purchase H. erectus, there are much safer ways to do so. Not only that, but you could do so if you just waited until they were old enough to sell.

    And again, you claim it’s up to the buyer to research the difficulty in raising seahorses is not your responsibility is just a way of trying to dodge blame. You are the “expert” and the seller, you have a duty to disclose the difficulty involved. And you have a duty to the animals you raise. Laying that at the buyers feet is shirking your responsibility for a few dollars.

    I would love to know what precautions you’ve taken in shipping for the metabolic effects of starvation and subsequent reabsorption of fat and muscle tissue that occurs in seahorse fry during prolonged periods without food.

    I stand by the accusation that the listing for these seahorses is deceptive. You claim in your comment that you don’t tell people they can’t keep adult seahorses in a refugium. Verbatum from your listing:
    “They could also be housed in your refugium provided care is taken that they do not get sucked into any of the tubing.”
    How else is one expected to read this? Not only that, but you misrepresenting what I actually said; I said a refugium is no place for any seahorse, including adults. Suggesting an animal can be kept in a refugium in saltwater fish keeping is short hand for something that can live with little intervention or attention needed – part of what makes your listing intentionally deceptive.

    My prediction that these seahorses are going to die is one born of experience – I’ve been involved in keeping seahorses and that online community for 15 years. I’ve seen similar scenarios play out repeatedly. Your guarantee means very little – plenty of scams have “guarantees”; yet they’re never very enforceable. Are you covering replacements and shipping, or refunding the entire cost, including shipping? If not, and you’re playing the “credits” game that many shady dealers do, then the high bar to enact the guarantee makes it worthless.

    As to your suggestion that I am doing this as a way of defaming “the competition”; that’s a simple tactic attempting to deflect blame by questioning my motives. But it’s clear you are just grasping at straws without much as much research as you think you’ve done. I have been on hiatus from breeding for the past year. But beyond that, I use this website help to fellow breeders and keepers. I actively promote responsible breeders such as Seahorse Seahorse and South Watch. I run the Seahorse Breeders Registry, a separate site that promotes other breeders. I have a list of places where one can obtain captive bred seahorses. I have a forum which is meant for people to sell seahorses they breed.

    This site is written for and about seahorses and their kin because I care passionately about them, full stop. Ask anyone who follows this FusedJaw, and they’ll be able to tell you the same and more.

    I’m not sure what you think you’d get by doxing me on my own website. I am Tami Weiss, I run Fusedjaw.com. I posted this article under my name. I have always been upfront about who I am and what my motives are. In this case, it’s to both shame your company for active irresponsibly, and to hopefully get the word out to those that might be suckered into that ebay listing.

    But while we’re talking about it, I’ll return the favor and ask for your retail saltwater products license and commercial saltwater products license. As you’re in Florida, you need both those to collect and sell the items that you are.

    “The author did not post any link to our actual webpage so that their readers could read our entire listing and decide for themselves about our intent.”

    Actually, I linked directly to your listing exactly for the reason of allowing readers to come to their own conclusion. Try harder.

    I suggest you take a look at the comments here and see that this practice is frowned upon by pretty much everyone.

  10. AussieSam Says:

    What the!!
    Why would anyone sell seahorse fry??
    And, I’m still trying to work out why anyone would want to raise one or two fry in such a manner.

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